Semi-Daily Journal Archive

The Blogspot archive of the weblog of J. Bradford DeLong, Professor of Economics and Chair of the PEIS major at U.C. Berkeley, a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research, and former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Treasury.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Modern Republicanism

Michael Gerson tries to complete the transformation of Republicans into ignorant, amoral swine. Here he is, writing in Newsweek on modern Republicanism:

Gerson: The Republican Identity Crisis - Newsweek Politics - MSNBC.com: Jan. 1, 2007 issue - My low point with the Republican Party came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In attempting to deliver benefits to victims, the administration found men and women who had never had a bank account; families entirely disconnected from the mainstream economy. A problem rooted in generations of governmentally enforced oppression--slavery and segregation--demanded an active response from government to encourage economic empowerment and social mobility.

Yet the response of many Republicans was to use the disaster as an excuse for cutting government spending, particularly the Medicare prescription-drug benefit for seniors.... [O]ne conservative think-tank sage urged: "The president needs to give up something he wants. Why not the AIDS program for Africa?".... Like all fundamentalists, the antigovernment conservatives preach that greater influence requires a return to purity--the purity of Reaganism. But the golden age of austerity under Reagan is a myth. During the Reagan years, big government got bigger, with federal spending reaching 23.5 percent of GDP.... But the Reagan reality is more admirable than the myth. He wisely chose what was historically necessary--large defense increases and tax reductions--over what was politically unachievable: a massive rollback of government....

As antigovernment conservatives seek to purify the Republican Party, it is reasonable to ask if the purest among them are conservatives at all. The combination of disdain for government, a reflexive preference for markets and an unbalanced emphasis on individual choice is usually called libertarianism. The old conservatives had some concerns about that creed, which Russell Kirk called "an ideology of universal selfishness." Conservatives have generally taught that the health of society is determined by the health of institutions: families, neighborhoods, schools, congregations. Unfettered individualism can loosen those bonds, while government can act to strengthen them.... Anti-government conservatism turns out to be a strange kind of idealism—-an idealism that strangles mercy....

The future of the Republican Party depends on which party it wants to be—-the party of purity, or the party of the governors. In that decision, Republicans should consider: any political movement that elevates abstract antigovernment ideology above human needs is hardly conservative, and unlikely to win...

Look again at what Gerson says: Reagan "wisely chose what was historically necessary--large defense increases and tax reductions." Large defense spending increases and tax reductions don't go together. In the short run they produce a fiscal boost to employment. In the medium run they produce slow growth as government deficits drain the pool of capital available for investment. In the long run they produce hyperinflation, as the failure of the government's resources to match its commitments leads to an effective default. Such an economic policy strategy is not "historically necessary." It reveals a lack of a moral compass, and either total ignorance about the requirements of good government or enormous cynicism--a belief that we can make a mess and somebody else, somebody responsible, will clean it up.

Greg Mankiw thinks that the study of economics makes people more conservative. Perhaps, perhaps not. But if it takes at all, it certainly doesn't turn them into modern Republicans. It tends, rather, to turn them into modern Democrats.

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