The title of this post might send some conservative heads spinning, but as my faithful readers know I’m going somewhere with this. To varying degrees conservatives have tried to and continue to try to reform our entitlement programs that in their present form are simply unsustainable. Proposals for change get thrown around, but nothing truly meaningful actually happens. When our last President Bush tried to use his momentum from a hard fought re-election to reform Social Security, leftists rallied to defeat the extremist idea of letting young people choose to take responsibility for their own retirement funds. Paul Ryan recently introduced legislation to bring reforms to our entitlement systems that would put us on a road to sustainability. How did all of the leftists who call for civilized dialogue and bipartisan solutions respond? We got videos suggesting that Ryan was going to push wheelchair-bound Granny off of a cliff. Even today while leftist policy continues to send us on a downward spiral that will send us on the same course as economic basket cases like Greece, Italy, California or Detroit, the left can’t give us anything but class warfare and platitudes about "fairness". Let’s be blunt – they are quite good at it. Which is why it is time to stop pretending that we are able to do anything about this problem right now. What needs to happen first is to change the conversation
For example, leftists will use their favorite mantras of raising taxes on the wealthy or raising taxes on business to solve our budget deficits. Wrong on both counts – we could punish all of the wealthiest businesses along with their executives or we could raise taxes in a manner progressive enough to destroy our wealthiest class that would excite Dennis Kucinich. Neither is enough. The leftist politician or newscaster will say something along the lines of "Shouldn’t the wealthy pay their fair share?" What conservatives need to respond with is the ultimate enemy of progressive agenda – numbers and reality. Ask how much their proposed taxes would raise. They rarely have them, and when they do the numbers will never have enough to have any real impact. If they actually have numbers, they are pretty easy to counter. For example:
$1.5 Trillion – That’s how much additional debt we incurred in 2011. That’s also the net worth of the Forbes 400. Taking everything they own balances the budget for one year, and now we’ve permanently lost our wealthiest 400 taxpayers. What else do you have?
Most of the time you won’t get any numbers, just the usual worries about fairness, inequity, how the country should be, how they expect the rich to behave, but never any real plan that can actually produce results outside of a think tank or policy meeting. This needs to be driven home and force leftists to debate on substance, an area they naturally avoid because it’s a losing argument for them. Ask what their numbers are, how realistic they are, what the impact of their policy will be, and what are the unintended consequences. Granted, right now the best conservative solutions are the rough and flawed ones coming from Paul Ryan, but at least he’s trying to start a meaningful conversation. Unfortunately the leftists ignore the reality because it does not fit in with their beliefs. How did the president respond to this plan? If you had guessed that President Obama decided to reach across the aisle, produce a plan of his own and work toward a bipartisan solution you would be wrong. Having nothing positive, constructive or realistic to add to the conversation, the president did the only thing he truly knows how to do – sow anger and divisiveness: "by gutting the very things we need to grow an economy that’s built to
last — education and training; research and development;
infrastructure — it’s a prescription for decline.". If the level of dialogue regarding our budget and economy were at a serious level President Obama would have been laughed off the stage. The fact that he was not shows how serious this problem is.
Yes, that last statement was an obnoxious one, but no less obnoxious that being called an extremist for believing in living within your means. If you’re getting called an extremist for these views ask your leftist if they truly believe that spending less than you make is extreme. You can cut them off at the "No, BUT – " There are no"buts" to this. The arguments for temporary deficit spending or maintaining certain levels of debt can follow, but if your leftist counterpart can’t even agree on that basic point there is no point in trying to have a discussion. You can also ask who their creditors are so you can make sure you’re not investing in them, and ask who they work for so you can short sell their stock.
Let’s go to the illustration about serviceable levels of debt that knocks a few zeroes off of the national debt to portray it as a single household’s debt. There was a great graphic that went around which unfortunately I can’t find anywhere. If anyone has it please drop the url in the comments so I can update with the image. The image sums its point up in one quick question – if you’re making $23,000 per year, are spending $35,000 and have debt of $135,000, how is reducing your spending by $345 per year fiscally responsible? Individuals who do this go bankrupt, and companies that do this go out of business, so why is this enlightened genius at a federal level?
This is where you might get the Krugmanesque Keynesian arguments that there is not enough demand for goods and only government spending can get things moving again. A simple solution is to issue every American adult a credit card with a $5,000 limit on it, but every man and woman with a card is required to max it out in one month. Boom – instant stimulus! Extra money is moving in the economy, and now everything is moving again thanks to the extra business and its multiplier effect, meaning that the money you spent goes into someone else’s hands, they put it in someone else’s, etc. The problem is that the money has to come from somewhere. You just spent that money and in theory you are now receiving more money as we see more economic activity, but is it enough to make it worth that $5,000 bill that you get at the end of the month? Yes, this sounds absurd but that seems to be the philosophy behind leftist economic thought these days.
So now you have hopefully gotten your leftist friend to agree that at some point the government needs to stop growing faster than the economy that feeds it. At this point you’ll get calls for bipartisan approaches, of combining things like "responsible spending cuts" with "modest tax increases". Be careful, hopefully by now you have Admiral Ackbar by your side to warn you that it’s a trap. Leftists like to paint themselves as the reasonable parties to make their conservative counterparts seem like extremists. Here are a few leftist phrases and what they actually mean:
"We need a bipartisan solution" means "We need to work together so I can remove anything of substance from your proposal" (OK, we do this too)
"We need dialogue" means "I am not getting what I want, so you need to shut up and listen to me until I do."
"Now is the time for civility" means "Don’t behave in the same way I would if our roles were reversed. In fact, don’t behave like a leftist ever."
You get the idea.
If you hear feel good language don’t go any farther until you can get them to quantify them. How much is a "responsible" spending cut? Not a percentage, but actual dollars. When you hear about "modest" tax increases, ask how many dollars they will actually bring in/ What will the negative impacts be? How much tax avoidance will result? How much will the taxed activity decrease and how many jobs are expected to be lost? For that matter, in determining "fair" tax rates, what determines what is fairness? For that matter, what is it that makes leftists the ones who are morally and intellectually superior that they are qualified to be the arbiters of fairness? For people who hate to pass judgment on criminals, terrorists, or any kind of bad behaviors they certainly like to be the ones to judge the crime of prosperity.
Since you’re never going to get serious numbers out of the leftists, you can present them with actual numbers of how dire the situation is and why theirs won’t work – see my link on destroying the wealthy earlier in this post. Until leftists are enlightened/shamed/forced into acknowledging their current beliefs are fatally flawed we can’t even start to work toward a solution.
Another favorite canard of the left is that the government has to lead the way in spending, or has to "prime the pump" when the economy is moving too slowly. First off, explain that the government can not create wealth – one of the posts in my Economics for Politicians series explains that – be sure to have your friend check out the Bill Whittle video that is embedded in that post. You might also have to back up a bit and explain that the government only can exist at the expense of the rest of the economy’s consumption or investment. Whether we pay today in higher taxes or tomorrow in debt (to be followed with inflation or higher taxes) everything that the government spends is by definition a drain on some other part of the economy.
Converting the left will not be easy; take the Head Start program for children as an example. Even though this program has a proven track record of having its results disappear completely within two years of completion, we still continue to drop money into a failed program that has cost more than the Apollo space program. When John Stossel confronted leftist Congressman Keith Ellison with these results what answer do you think Ellison gave? The only answer that any leftists will give to any failed social policy – we need to spend more money. This is not going to be easy.
I’ll leave you with one last analogy in terms of taking a "balanced" approach. Leftists truly believe that we can balance our budget with a combination of
spending cuts reduced rate of government growth along with tax increases on somebody else. To illustrate why this plan will not work I compare our economy to a car that is driving at 100 MPH and sees a sign that there is a cliff a mile away. The conservative will say that we need to alter our course by at least 90 degrees or we will drive off of the cliff. The leftist at the wheel will call for a balanced approach of slowing down to 80 MPH and altering our course by 30 degrees. While your driver is patting himself on the back for the balance of his bipartisan approach, at the end of the day the economy does its best impression of Thelma and Louise.
I understand that we need to reform our entitlement programs, and it has to happen sooner than later. If you think we can even bring any serious reform to the table now look no further than how the president reacted to the Ryan plan or look at what the unions put Wisconsin through over Scott Walker’s reforms. No, before this battle begins we have to stop letting the left define the ground where we fight. This has to be taken to every leftist politician, journalist, and activist out there, and they have to be dragged kicking and screaming to our battlefield. The message has to be driven home, it needs to be understood across the country before we can even think of action. Only then will the American people be ready to support the tough decisions that face us.
As Arnold Kling said (H/T Wizbang’s Charlie Quidnunc): "A lot of people want you to believe that the progressive agenda is the victim of Angela Merkel and Paul Ryan. But an alternative perspective would suggest that it is the victim of arithmetic."
Cross posted from Brother Bob’s Blog