Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Public policy for parents

Yuval Levin has a very important and interesting article in The Weekly Standard. Arguing that it’s time for conservatives to develop a post-Reagan domestic policy to appeals to the aspirations of middle-class parents, he offers a compelling analysis and some interesting first steps. A couple of snippets:

[T]he "present crisis" Reagan addressed is long past. Because of welfare reform and conservative pro-family policies, it is no longer fair to say that government is the greatest threat to American families. In the wake of Reagan’s and Bush’s tax cuts, the federal government is not the drain on Americans’ pocketbooks or the deadweight on economic dynamism that it was in 1981. The federal government remains too big and overbearing. But opposition to government can no longer do as the primary means of advancing
the interests of families and markets--which has been and should remain the twofold aim of American conservatives.

***

The left, for now at least, offers little to oppose, and does little but oppose the right. American conservatives, in turn, are no longer primarily an opposition movement but a governing movement. That does not mean conservatives will win every election; but it means they will set the tone. And they will have to think hard about what advancing the interests of families and free markets now entails.


This means thinking afresh about the tension at the heart of the conservative worldview: between the interests of the family and traditional values on the one hand and the interests of the market and economic freedom on the other. Government was never the source of that tension, it was merely a common foe. Limited government is inherent to any conservative governing vision, but if those who run the government no longer explicitly seek to undermine capitalism and traditionalism--if government is no longer the greatest danger to both--then what is that greatest danger? And what is the best way to serve the causes of family and freedom?

***

Unease is perhaps the best way to describe the mood of American voters today. The terrorist threat and the war are of course primary sources of worry. But in survey after survey, there emerges a clear sense of disquiet about all manner of issues besides national security. More than half of Americans with health insurance expressed concern about losing their coverage in a USA Today poll in September. Exit polling in this fall’s election found that less than a third of all voters believe children born today will grow up to be better off than their parents. Similar signs of underlying anxiety emerge from countless other surveys.

***

In fact, today’s disquiet seems less the panic of a drowning man than the angst of an overachiever. The worry of middle- and lower-middle-class families arises from a genuine tension between the two things they most eagerly strive to do: build families and build wealth. That tension, and the disquiet it causes, is especially acute for parents. Indeed, Americans in the middle class and what used to be called the working class would be better conceived of today as the parenting class. Their concerns and aspirations are no longer focused on their standing in the workplace, as they were when our political vocabulary was coming of age, but on balancing the pursuits of family and prosperity.


The members of the parenting class do not live on the edge of poverty. But they are anxious about their ability to meet their high aims, like affording a decent college for their children, getting the most from their health care dollar, and (in our increasingly older society) meeting the needs of their aging parents.


This is the anxiety of a successful capitalist economy filled with individuals who want to lead good lives. It is an anxiety produced by the kind of society conservatives seek to promote. It therefore calls for a response from the right, from those who share the aspiration to balance families and free markets, not those who think the system is about to collapse (and deserves to fall).

There’s much more here, all of it thought-provoking. Read it and have at it.
    

Discussions - 7 Comments

An outstanding article. All Republicans should read and think about it.

David Brooks also has a column in roughly the same spirit.

"[T]he "present crisis" Reagan addressed is long past. Because of welfare reform and conservative pro-family policies, it is no longer fair to say that government is the greatest threat to American families. In the wake of Reagan’s and Bush’s tax cuts, the federal government is not the drain on Americans’ pocketbooks or the deadweight on economic dynamism that it was in 1981. The federal government remains too big and overbearing. But opposition to government can no longer do as the primary means of advancing the interests of families and markets"


The big government conservatives at the Weekly Standard (it should be the Weakly Standard) are at it again. Big surprise. But this is all sophistry. One can no more be a "big government conservative" than you can be a Christian atheist. We now have a 2.5 trillion dollar budget, a 400 billion dollar deficit, and an 8.5 trillion dollar debt. Our unfunded liabilities are almost impossible to calculate. If we were a corporation, we would be bankrupt. It is pure ostrich style head burying to believe this can continue. It is a house of cards that must eventually collapse. At some point we will turn to what countries always turn to in situations like this, and we will just start printing the money as fast as we can. This is already happening to some extent. We will be like the Weimar Germans, carrying our money in a wheel barrow to buy a loaf of bread.


I am fully aware that spending money and promising to spend money, is very politically popular. It is absolutely no surprise that in a too direct democracy (which is not what the Founders created but is what we have now), one can always sell the extremely popular combination of cutting taxes (except on the other guy who unlike me really does owe his "share") and spending money. Conversely promising to drastically cut spending is not at all popular and gets no one elected. So a GOP and a "conservative" movement that long ago sold its soul to pragmatic politics at the expense of principle, will no doubt be thrilled to hear that "opposition to government can no longer do as the primary means of advancing the interests" of the Party. Will be nice to finally get rid of those last remaining pangs of guilt brought about by the afore mentioned sell out. Wow. Now we know the sell out is actually in the best interest of families and markets.


Sometimes the world of politics needs statesmen and leaders, not nose counters. Do you honestly believe that Bush style profligate spending can continue without dire consequences? I submit that drunken sailors inside the Beltway are a much graver threat to our future than are Muslims in Iraq. And the Weakly Standard is "aiding and abetting" the enemy.

I had the same reaction as Mr. Phillips. "Government no longer the greatest danger..."? What?!?! A few tax cuts from an otherwise liberal GOP (think Prescription Drug Giveaway) and conservativism has won the day? SS still a failure, big government bigger than ever living off of SS, reform of anything significant still off the table, the Holocaust of the unborn raging as it was in 74?!?!.

Still he has a point in that the folks need to be paid attention to, in that they do have "anxiety" - but big government is not the way to do it...

I completely agree with Dan concerning his accounting observations. Remember, whenever the media releases the debt, deficit, etc. figures it almost always leaves out certain liabilities that do not exist on the govt books. Social security is one of those, the reasoning is that because Congress could cancel Social Security at any time, it is not really a liability.

Increased govt spending is almost always bad (unless it somehow enhances the market) because it has to either come from taxes or bonds. Either source of govt revenue takes money out of the economy, although perhaps bonds are worse because as their interest rate goes up it steals investment capital from the private sector.

Does any financial/economist person know which source of govt funding, bonds or taxes, hurts the economy more? My rough guess is bonds might do it because everyone has to work in order to eat, but I might be wrong, would be happy to hear some ideas about it.

In the excerpt of the article, what the author did not address is the balancing that needs to be done between needs and wants among the middle class in people’s personal lives. People may actually need to sacrifice their conspicuous consumption for the things that are supposedly more important to them. If they make a choice that their relatively big house, two nice cars, fashionable clothes, technological toys, etc., is more important, then they have to live with the consequences of those purchases.

An important part of the American dream has always been the partnership between the state and private industry. Unfortnately, private industry is increasingly reneging on that parnership...laying off workers, slashing benefits (or increasing out-of-pocket expenses), off-shoring production. If our government tries to provide those jobs and benefits, we are looking at the Euro welfare state...and the true end of the American experiment.

Here’s a radical notion...the United States is far too big to benefit from globalization. This isn’t Singapore...we have millions and millions of low-skilled and poorly-educated workers, and millions more of educated but high-priced workers. Currently we still retain the sheer consumer power to set our own terms for global participation, but not for long (anyone looked at the inequality stats lately?). While we still have this leverage, we need to pull out of the WTO and set in place the old tariffs regime. Moreover, our new maxim should be that if you sell here, you’d better manufacture here.

Now I realize some of you free-traders out there will be horrified, and you will note how this will increase consumer costs. Personally, I doubt it will increase costs by much. Why? Because the goods you buy at WalMart have an 80% markup...and all that money goes to a tiny sliver of the American population (the part that is running this ’going out of business’ sale). The reason the electorate is anxious is because THEY HAVE REASON TO BE. This isn’t a healthy economy, it’s a hypertrophic one.

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