Room to Grow has Room to Grow

My initial reaction to Room to Grow was negative. Let me try to offer a more balanced assessment.

A. One could argue that the purpose of the project is to shift the conservative conversation away from spending cuts, tax cuts, and a balanced budget. The idea is to focus on policies that will improve the way government deals with ordinary Americans in terms of health care, education, and work. My comments on that are:

1. I commend the conservative reform movement for trying to come up with policies that help ordinary people. I think that is the right thing to do.

2. Having said that, I think that the less populist parts of the conservative agenda, such as reducing taxes on capital and putting entitlements on a sustainable path, are also the right thing to do. Maybe it is prudent for conservatives to set those goals aside for a few years, but it would be wrong to abandon them altogether.

3. I think that one can argue that many progressives approaches for helping ordinary people have been at best ineffective and at worst harmful, with the latter a frequent result.

4. I think that there is zero chance that progressives will admit that conservatives have better approaches for helping ordinary people. I think that there is zero chance that the progressive media will credit conservatives with caring about ordinary people.

B. The glossy paper and colorful layout of RtG led me to expect a finished product. It is anything but that. I think it would have been better presented as a conversation starter than as a program. My specific complaints are those that I have outlined in earlier posts.

1. The chapters are not coordinated, and so the ideas do not fit together. In some cases, they are clearly incompatible with one another. For me, the lack of coherence makes it misleading for RtG to call itself an agenda.

2. Sometimes, problems are identified, such as the power of incumbents in health care and education to block innovation, without proposing bold solutions.

3. At least four chapters propose new tax credits.* I think we should be taking support for “merit goods” (aka social engineering) out of the tax code, not putting more of it in. While I support the thrust of reducing the tax burden on ordinary working Americans, I think that cutting payroll taxes would be a better approach than loading more tax credits into the system.

*Maybe more. I just remembered that the chapter on employment policies proposes a business tax credit for hiring workers who have been unemployed for a long time.

4. I worry that RtG lends itself to legislative gesturing. A member of the House or Senate can introduce one of these proposals in isolation, issue a press release, and say “Look at me. I’m offering a solution for X.” In fact, the sort of coherent approach to policy that I think is needed can probably only come from the executive branch.

5. I am increasingly convinced that all of our means-tested programs need to be consolidated along the lines I have suggested. At the very least, somebody needs to think about the interaction among them.

6. RtG did call my attention to two issues that I had not considered before: child-care subsidies; and potential marriage penalties embedded in means-tested programs. I will think about those issues and revise my ideas if necessary.

5 thoughts on “Room to Grow has Room to Grow

  1. The underlying “ideology” of RtG seems to be preservation of conditions under which most human interactions (particularly those relating to specific problems) shall be conducted through the intermediation of “Government” and the uses of its mechanisms.

    Any potential for a resurgence of individuality, with its concomitant of inter-personal relationships and commutative (without intermediation) obligations is ignored or disregarded despite past historic effectiveness.

    Policies and “programs” which attempt to substitute intermediations for the human motivations required to resolve issues in social organization, however refined, by the “best” minds and with entirely good intent, will pervert those motivations, distort culture, yet resolve nothing.

  2. That may be another reason to join Hayek in:
    “Why I am Not a Conservative.”

  3. Policy is complicated. Libertarian Republicans have decided after long observation and thought that a small set of principles guides public policy to the correct path. Spend a lot less through government, reduce the federal payroll, regulate only what is absolutely necessary in business, and remove government mandates like Obamacare which increase the costs of health care, hiring, and working. I agree.

    The worst part of Republican infighting is that it suggests to many undecided voters that Republicans are hacks and a free market philosophy merely hides their heartlessness.

    A large middle of independents sit on the fence. The Left says that if government spends less money, it will kill private sector jobs through lack of Keynesian demand. Government workers don’t want to be fired. People like the idea of a protective government, and 40% of the public gets a government check. Why should they believe that they would be better off without big government? Why not tax the rich? Why not go on as before?

    Leftist politicians proclaim attractive goals and principles as if they were possible, and argue through emotion. They say anything and fight for every inch. They present a vision of a glorious future. They fight for that future with conviction, not daunted by the contradictions and idiocies which they proclaim, and not daunted by the poor “short term” 5 year results. They make aggressive moves toward their goals and then compromise on how much they win.

    The Republican opposition shows fear. They want a better future within the bounds of morality and reality, but they don’t act like this is supremely important. They say that reality requires conservative policies, and then they make compromises which ignore that reality. This makes them appear opportunistic, trading away the results which they say are necessary. They compromise on how much they lose.

    If Conservative and Libertarian policies are good for almost everyone, then why don’t Republicans act like it? An observer on the fence might suspect that Republicans don’t really believe in the reality they describe. For example, they started a fight over the debt ceiling. They said correctly that increased debt is dangerous to the productivity and living standard of our country, and spending must be controlled.

    Republicans voted for less spending. Obama threatened shutting down the government, and cynically did shut down the most visible government services such as parks and memorials. The Republicans did not fight the lie that the Republicans had shut down the government! Then, they caved in. They did not even argue that the disruption from a temporary government disruption (which was Obama’s threat) was worth it. The disruption was worth avoiding higher taxes and a lowered living standard.

    Then, they made a deal with no spending cuts of importance. What about the cliff? Why start the fight in the first place? Someone on the fence sees this as political posturing, not an analysis backed by conviction. This demeaned the Republican and Conservative brand.

    The prior debt deal gave approval to the Democratic vision. The Democrats seem credible when they say: “Republicans start fights they don’t believe in, but they have opposed us enough to cause the next recession. They want to block our policies for political gain, but they don’t want to stand by their own plans and take responsibility. They risked default without believing their own analysis. They say higher taxes are bad, but they are only trying to protect their rich supporters”

    It is not enough to have a good policy, one must fight for that policy as if it were actually good. People judge conviction as much or more than the facts.