Category: US politics

Remember the deficit? Remember the debt?

Peter Suderman on …

For most of the Obama era, the federal deficit—and, by extension, the debt—was a crisis.

This was a bipartisan belief, held, or at least paid respectful lip service, by the Tea Party radicals and top administration aides as well as by President Obama himself. Hence the battles over the debt limit; the imposition of sequestration cuts that, fully implemented, were intended to reduce spending by more than $1 trillion over a decade; the concurrent increase in tax rates on high earners; the creation of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, better known as the Supercommittee; and the Simpson-Bowles debt-reduction proposal to which it led.

In the end, that plan was rejected by party leaders on both sides. But the idea, that trillion dollar deficits and the pile-up of debt they incur represented a problem, remained alive and powerful to the end. Even President Trump campaigned on (fanciful and mostly incoherent) promises to eliminate the federal debt. The federal budget was an emergency or at least a looming threat. Something had to be done.

But two and a half years into the Trump administration, neither party acts as if there’s a crisis.

On the Republican side, the party’s most notable legislative accomplishment was a deficit-increasing tax-cut bill that reduced revenues without offsetting spending cuts. At least for a while, Trump appeared to be under the false impression that federal debt could be paid down with tariff revenue. Trump’s all-purpose acting henchman, the one-time fiscal hawk Mick Mulvaney, has argued in favor of new deficits.

Amongst Democrats, the GOP’s abandonment of deficit politics has freed the party’s progressives to propose massive spending increases, while elevating economic theoriesthat excuse, or even encourage, a deficits-forever approach to budgeting.

The budget process itself is deeply broken, leading to last minute, quasi-temporary spending deals that come together only because Republicans want to secure more funding for the military while Democrats obtain more funding for domestic programs. Medicare and Social Security remain the largest long-term drivers of the debt, yet the project of entitlement reform looks effectively dead.

The 2020 presidential campaign is in full swing, yet debt and deficits have barely been mentioned. Relatedly, public concern about the issue has dwindled since 2013. In just a few years, American politics has been overtaken by a free-spending sense that debt and deficits just. Don’t. Matter.

And yet the underlying fiscal situation hasn’t changed. If anything, it has become worse. The budget is now on a trajectory toward trillion dollar deficits, and the total federal debt has soared past $21 trillion. And old-age entitlements are rapidly nearing the point of fiscal failure.

Consider Social Security. Earlier this year, the program’s trustees projected that it would be insolvent—unable to pay all of its bills—in just 16 years. Starting next year, the program will begin tapping its trust fund assets in order to pay its full benefits. Eventually, that fund, which itself is a kind of accounting fiction, will be gone, and the program will only be able to pay out a portion of its benefits.

Medicare’s finances are, in some ways, in even more dire shape: Although Social Security’s shortfall is larger, Medicare’s main trust fund is expected to reach insolvencyin 2026, at which point it will be able to pay just 89 percent of its bills. That’s just two presidential elections away, and yet nearly all of the current discussion about Medicare is about whether and how to expand it.

This is the new free-lunchism, and it is driven almost entirely by the politics of convenience and short-term thinking: Voters want more benefits and more spending but not the broad middle-class tax hikes that other countries rely on to pay for those benefits, and politicians across the aisle have responded by offering them exactly the combination they want, with predictable results. There is a prevailing sense amongst both voters and lawmakers that there is little cost to doing so, at least for now. After all, the debt-driven calamities warned about during the Obama era never came to pass. So why worry now?

In part, this is a misunderstanding of how debt crises work. Typically they don’t announce themselves years in advance and provide the public and the political class time to prepare. By the time a crisis arrives, it is, almost definitionally, already too late.

And to the extent debt crises do announce themselves, it’s unlikely to be through anything dramatic. Instead, the early warnings are likely to come through boring and somewhat uncertain projections from actuaries and government economic offices, think tanks that seem to always warn of an impending debt crisis, and deficit-hawk politicians who gripe that no one ever listens to them. The signs and portents, in other words, would look something like what we’re already seeing now.

The current lack of concern about deficits is also partially a result of a re-thinking by some economists, especially on the left and center-left, about the relative importance of deficits; maybe deficits will matter at some point, this line of thinking goes, but not as much as previously thought, and certainly not at present.

Intentionally or not, this line of thinking has given the political class, which rarely considers economic ideas with much nuance, a license to make ever-more extravagant and expensive promises. It has resulted in a calculation, probably correct, that offering voters more—and more and more and more—without the pain of tax hikes, is a path to easy victory with few consequences. Which by all appearances, it is, and will be…right up until it isn’t.

It is possible, I suppose, that this cavalier approach to public finance will work out, more or less, that we’ll muddle through, as we usually have, and that the recklessness of the political class will prove merely irresponsible in the usual way, rather than fully calamitous.

And yet. To believe that we should simply respond to the current fiscal situation with a collective shrug requires a belief not only that current levels of debt and deficits don’t matter, but that the inevitable future expansion of the fiscal gap won’t matter either.

Because one thing you can be certain of is that if today’s fiscal frivolity does not produce immediate dire consequences, then the next generation of politicians, Republican and Democrat alike, will push the envelope just a little bit further, and a little bit further after that, and so on and so forth, rather than settling in some comfortable stopping point where the country’s finances are messy but mostly hang together.

Sustaining this casual attitude toward fiscal looseness thus requires believing that there is essentially no limit, no meaningful upper bound, to the amount of debt that the federal budget can sustain, an idea that even many of today’s more sophisticated debt-doesn’t-matter boosters don’t subscribe to. Alternatively, it requires a high degree of confidence that our nation’s political class will more or less responsibly take our national ledger right up to the brink but no further, finding the precise last moment in which to exercise fiscal restrain. If you believe this, I would gently suggest you acquaint yourself with some politicians.

Otherwise, you have to worry, at least a little, that today’s trajectory is toward crisis, if not now, if not at current debt levels, then at some future date we’ll only discover when it’s too late to prevent, when the consequences can’t be avoided. And that worry should be increased a little more by the possibility that today’s free-lunchism is not only increasing the likelihood of an eventual crisis, but making it harder to solve, if and when it does arrive, by seeding amongst voters the idea that hard choices won’t ever be necessary. It is making the already challenging project of achieving public consensus harder still.

So yes, the predicted crisis may not have arrived quite yet. It may even hold off for a while longer. But the nature of politics means it draws ever closer, and ignoring the issue, as we are now, only makes it worse.

Brian Riedl explains the history and, perhaps inadvertently, shows the problem:

Seemingly no one cares about the budget deficit anymore. Republicans recently cut taxes by $2 trillion, while Democrats are promising a spending spree that could top $40 trillion over the decade. And this is on top of the current budget trajectory that shows annual deficits exceeding $2 trillion within a decade, and totaling a staggering $84 trillion over the next 30 years.

The cost of paying interest on this debt is projected to become the largest federal expenditure within a few decades, consuming one-third of all federal taxes. Even that assumes continued low interest rates. Every percentage point they rise adds another $13 trillion in budget interest costs over the next three decades.

In short, an avalanche of debt is upon us. Yet pandering politicians promise even more free lunches, paid for by our kids.

America desperately needs a “grand deal” on deficits, where Republicans and Democrats come together and make the difficult choices to avert a debt-based calamity. We’re all in this together, so everything should be on the table, with no sacred cows.

Such a deal seems wildly implausible. But it has not always been. In a new study, I analyzed the 14 largest deficit-reduction negotiations since 1980. Six of these negotiations successfully led to a deficit-reduction deal, and eight of them failed. Yet the outcome of nearly every negotiation was determined by the same three variables. Satisfying at least two of them always led to a deal. Satisfying one or zero produced failure.

First, there should be a “penalty default” that brings negotiators to the table. This is some painful policy — such as a government shutdown, debt limit default, or deep automatic spending cuts — that would be implemented automatically if a deal is not enacted by a certain date. The 1983 Social Security reforms were motivated by the program’s impending trust fund exhaustion that would bring automatic benefit cuts. The 2011 Budget Control Act was motivated by the need to quickly raise the debt limit and avoid a default on federal obligations.

Today’s challenge is that government shutdowns and debt limits have proven to be increasingly ineffective and dangerous ways to motivate a deal. New penalty defaults are needed to bring lawmakers to the table.

Second, the public must want a deficit-reduction deal. The budget deals enacted between 1985 and 1997 — which helped balance the budget — were driven by voter deficit concerns that made it politically safer for politicians to impose spending cuts and tax hikes. Today, most voters either do not care about the deficit, or are willing to address it in only a partisan fashion.

Third, Congress and the White House must engage in healthy, good-faith negotiations. During the 1995 deficit-reduction negotiations, President Clinton and the Republican Congress attacked each other publicly (even running TV ads against each other) and relied on deception and intimidation to bully the other side into accepting a lopsided deal. These negotiations inevitably failed, leading to a lengthy government shutdown.

Two years later, both sides tried again. Each side honestly laid out their priorities, made generous concessions, avoided hardball tactics, and worked towards a deal in which both sides could claim victory. Neither side relied on leaking to the media or publicly bullying the other. The result was a popular, bipartisan budget deal that was followed by a balanced budget the following year.

This “healthy negotiations” variable was regularly present in the 1980s and 1990s budget negotiations — and has never been present since. That is the lead reason why only one successful deficit-reduction negotiation has occurred in the past 20 years. Republicans and Democrats no longer know how to negotiate with — or even tolerate — each other. And yes, both parties are to blame on that.

Future deficit negotiations also will be more difficult because past negotiations picked the low-hanging fruit. More than half of all savings from past deficit-reduction deals came from discretionary spending (mostly defense) — reducing the discretionary spending share of the budget to less than one-fourth within the next decade. Savings from small entitlement programs, modest tax changes and user fees also have played a role in past deficit-reduction deals.

What’s left? The Social Security and Medicare systems face a $100 trillion cash shortfall over the next 30 years, while the rest of the budget is projected to run a $16 trillion surplus. Closing this gap will require some combination of Social Security and Medicare reforms, and new taxes that include the middle-class. Defense cuts, social spending cuts, and millionaire taxes should be on the table, but cannot close more than a small fraction of that combined $84 trillion shortfall. The math is unforgiving.

This represents a challenge to both politicians and voters. The president and Congress need to get off of Twitter, rebuild relationships and learn to negotiate despite their strong disagreements. The public must also stop demanding more free lunch policies from politicians. After all, the climate change movement focuses on imposing relatively-modest reforms now to avoid calamity later. Imposing modest budget reforms now, before an $84 trillion deluge of debt brings a Greece-style economic calamity, also should be a top priority.

The problems are obvious. The biggest and growing cause of federal deficits are entitlements, specifically Social Security and Medicare, and yet suggesting that reform of Social Security and Medicare is needed is a good way to end your political career.

And yet, tax increases are always the wrong answer. Always. Tax increases, as everyone should know, end up slowing down the economy and make family finances worse. Who therefore should want a fix to federal deficits when the fix makes them worse off?

There are two ways to fix the deficit. One isn’t likely to happen — a constitutional requirement for a balanced budget with no wiggle-outs for alleged national emergencies. The other is a crisis.

 

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From Obama to Trump to …

George S. Will:

“It is a great advantage to a president,” said the 30th of them, “and a major source of safety to the country, for him to know he is not a great man.” Or, Calvin Coolidge would say today, a great woman. While today’s incumbent advertises himself as an “extremely stable genius” and those who would replace him promise national transformation, attention should be paid to the granular details of presidential politics, which suggest that a politics of modesty might produce voting changes where they matter, and at least 270 electoral votes for a Democrat.

If the near future resembles the immediate past, which it often does, the Democratic nominee in 2020 will be, as the Republican nominee was in 2016, the person favored by the party faction for whom government is more a practical than an ideological concern. For Republicans in 2016, the faction — non-college whites — felt itself a casualty of an economic dynamism that has most benefited people who admire this faction least. In 2020, the decisive Democratic faction in the nomination contest is apt to be, as it was in 2016, African Americans, whose appraisal of government is particularly practical: What will it do regarding health care, employment, schools?

For them, packing the Supreme Court, impeaching the president, abolishing the Electoral College and other gesture-promises probably are distractions. African Americans were at least 20 percent of the vote in 15 of the 2016 primaries, and in all the primaries combined they gave 76 percent of their votes to Hillary Clinton. This is why Trump did not get a chance to defeat Vermont senator Bernie Sanders, who narrowly defeated Clinton among white voters in the primaries.

These numbers are from the National Journal‘s Josh Kraushaar, who noted that in a 2016 Pew survey, ‘just 28% of African-American Democrats identify as liberal, with a plurality describing themselves as moderate.’ Some of that plurality surely resent the idea of reparations for slavery as a badge of an irremediable damage. And the importance of ensuring robust African American turnout for Democrats is illustrated by this fact: If in 2004 John Kerry had received as many black votes in Ohio as Barack Obama was to receive in 2008, Kerry would have been the 44th president.

Furthermore, in the 110-day sprint between the end of the Democratic nominating convention in Milwaukee and Election Day, the earliest voting — this is subject to change — begins September 18 in Minnesota and at least one-fifth of 2020 voters will probably cast their ballots before Election Day. The decisive voters might be those who crave not transformation but restoration — the recovery of national governance that is neither embarrassing nor exhausting.

So, the Democratic party, the world’s oldest party, which for the first time in its history has won the popular vote in six of seven presidential elections, should be keenly focused on how to subtract states from Donald Trump’s 2016 roster, and to do so by carrying more than the 487 counties (out of 3,142) that Clinton carried. Democrats might try to decipher the almost 41-point swing in northeast Iowa’s inscrutable Howard County, the only U.S. county that voted in a landslide for Obama over Mitt Romney (by 20.9 points) in 2012 and four years later in a landslide for Trump over Clinton (by 20.1 points).

Democrats must make amends with the 402 other counties that voted for Trump after voting for Obama at least once. This will require the Democrats’ progressive lions to lay down with the Democrats’ moderate lambs, a spectacle as biblical as it is inimical to progressives’ pride about their wokeness. They might, however, be encouraged to be more politically ecumenical by remembering this: In 2016, Clinton won cumulatively a million more votes than Obama did in 2012 in New York, Massachusetts and California, but won one million fewer than he received everywhere else.

Everything, however, depends on Democrats jettisoning, before they allow it to influence their selection of a candidate, their self-flattering explanation of 2016. As William Voegeli, senior editor of the Claremont Review of Books, has written:

Ascribing the 2016 election to your opponents’ bigotry makes clear that the problem was not that Democrats didn’t do enough to deserve people’s votes, but that the people weren’t good enough to deserve Democrats’ governance. . . . One imagines that, sooner rather than later, even Democrats will come to suspect that denigrating people until they vote for you lacks a certain strategic plausibility.

Sooner than the Milwaukee convention?

 

Trump, Amash and various Democrats

The Hill:

Rep. Justin Amash, the lone Republican in Congress to call for President Trump’s impeachment, says he has no desire to play “spoiler” if he launches a third-party bid against Trump in 2020.

“I have no interest in playing spoiler. When I run for something, I run to win,” the Michigan Republican told The Hill on Wednesday as he descended the steps of the Capitol toward his office.

“I haven’t ruled anything out,” Amash replied when asked if he’s made a decision about a possible presidential bid.

But if he does run, some of his GOP colleagues worry that the five-term Libertarian-leaning congressman from Grand Rapids could siphon tens of thousands of votes away from Trump in a general election, potentially moving Rust Belt states that Trump won in 2016 — such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — into the Democratic column next year.

Some Republicans acknowledged that an Amash candidacy could be enough to hand the White House to the Democratic nominee, be it former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) or someone else.

Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Calif.) said a third-party bid by Amash “could screw things up.”

“I respect Libertarians, I like them a lot. But it doesn’t take away from the Democrats. It will take away from the conservative viewpoint and that hurts our side,” LaMalfa said. “You guys want to elect Biden or Crazy Bernie, then that’s the way to do it.

“I don’t have anything against him, but when people do this stuff, all it does is tear down the ability of Republicans to unite,” he added. “Maybe it’s some sort of vendetta against Trump.”

Some GOP colleagues close to Amash, 39, predict he ultimately will not challenge Trump next year.

“He has no plans to run,” said one close friend.

But other Republican lawmakers said the headline-grabbing steps Amash has taken in recent weeks suggest he is gearing up for a presidential bid.

Amash rocked Washington last month when he became the first Republican lawmaker to declare — after reading the 448-page report from special counsel Robert Mueller — that Trump had obstructed justice and engaged in “impeachable conduct.”

On Wednesday, Amash broke with Republicans again when he was the only GOP member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee to vote in favor of holding Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt.

That move came just days after Amash resigned from the House Freedom Caucus he helped launch four years ago with Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and other conservatives. The caucus has stood for reduced federal spending, limited government and protecting the Constitution, and helped send then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) into an early retirement in 2015.

But after Trump’s election, Amash grew increasingly frustrated that many caucus members exhibited what he considered blind loyalty to Trump, defending the president at any and all costs.

“Justin’s not running for reelection” to the House, said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), a Trump loyalist. “Justin’s running for president.”

Trump is now taking direct aim at Amash, huddling with Vice President Pence, Meadows and others to discuss the prospect of backing a GOP primary challenger to Amash in his reelection bid in the House, Politico reported Wednesday.

A new poll out this week showed Amash trailing little-known GOP challenger Jim Lower by 16 points — 49 percent to 33 percent.

But Amash seems unfazed by it all, saying he’s not worried by the threat of a Trump-backed primary challenge and that he would have no regrets if his call for impeachment ended his political career.

“I’ve spent my whole time in office under fire from different people, so it doesn’t worry me. I’ve had multiple elections where people thought I was the underdog and won by large margins,” Amash said in Wednesday’s interview. “I don’t really worry about any of that stuff. I have a lot of confidence in what I’m doing, in the American people, and especially the people in my district.”

“First I’m not going to lose, and second, I don’t have any regrets about doing the right thing,” he added, referring to a House race. “I didn’t run for office to sell out my principles to the party or to any one person. I’ve promised the people of my district I would operate in a certain way, uphold the Constitution, uphold the rule of law, fight for limited government and liberty, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Amash, the first Palestinian American to serve in Congress, won election in the Tea Party wave that swept Republicans into power in 2010. The attorney and former state lawmaker burnished a reputation as a strict constitutionalist and constant thorn in the side of GOP leadership.

His divorce from the ultraconservative Freedom group has been a trying episode.

“It’s certainly sad. It’s not like a happy moment to leave a group I helped found,” Amash said. “But I felt it was the right move under the circumstances.”

He also said he remains friends with Jordan, Meadows and others in the Freedom Caucus. On Wednesday, Amash sat next to and chatted with Jordan during an Oversight hearing before the contempt vote.

When asked Wednesday if he was aware of an Amash presidential bid, Meadows told The Hill: “I only have heard about his desire to run for reelection for his congressional seat. Nothing more.”

Amash’s call for impeachment put many of his GOP colleagues in an extremely difficult spot. Many Republicans want to be able to say that Amash is standing on principle and a man of conviction, one senior GOP lawmaker explained, but they don’t want to incite the wrath of Trump.

“He’s radioactive right now,” the GOP lawmaker said. “Even his closest friends and most trusted allies are in an awkward position of defending him as a person, because then they become part of the headline.”

Asked if Amash is a man of principle, Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) replied with a smile: “Justin is a friend.”

Davis described a possible Amash presidential bid as “a quixotic adventure.”

“I just don’t see it happening. It’s going to come down to the president and a major Democratic candidate,” said Davis, former chairman of the Republican Main Street Caucus. “He is somebody who marches to his own drummer. What we are seeing with Justin right now is not new to the Republican conference.”

One Freedom Caucus colleague, Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), called an Amash presidential bid “political suicide.”

Amash’s push for impeachment “was really over the top. He got elected and is entitled to his own position, but I totally disagree with him,” Lesko said. “I think he should change his mind and get out. He has no chance.”

More than 50 House Democrats have now called on their leadership to launch an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump obstructed justice and committed other crimes. Amash’s Michigan colleague, freshman Democratic Rep. Rashida Tliab, who has known Amash for years, has introduced a resolution calling on the Judiciary Committee to explore impeachment.

But Amash said he is not prepared to sign on as a co-sponsor to any of the Democratic pro-impeachment resolutions, especially since Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has not expressed any desire to move forward on impeachment.

“Unless the Speaker is interested in acting, the resolutions don’t really have much meaning at this point,” Amash said. “If the Speaker doesn’t want to move forward, the whole thing is dead in the water anyway.”

“Dead in the water” might describe Amash’s chance of winning the electoral votes of at least Wisconsin and many of those battleground states anyway. As a sort-of fan of Amash (because I believe the GOP needs to become more libertarian and less big-government-that-we’re-in-charge-of), I have pointed out here that there is less difference between Amash and Trump than some might think based on voting records.

But even if that were not the case, political history shows that with the lone exception of alcohol, Wisconsin is a very un-libertarian state. Wisconsin has the second most units of government of any state, high taxes, and big government in other senses. There is really no one at the federal level representing who could be considered remotely libertarian, and the last libertarian Republican in the Legislature was probably Sen. Dave Zien. Wisconsin Republicans — both politicians with the big R after their names, and those who support them — do not support smaller government or much else that libertarians support. And to think that self-identified Republicans will vote for Amash is, from the Democratic Party view, a triumph of hope over experience.

That’s Wisconsin. This analysis also ignores the fact that the Democrats may well not coalesce around current presidential frontrunner Joe Biden in the same way that Democrats didn’t coalesce around Hillary Clinton three years ago. Recall that Bernie Sanders claimed to support Hillary after she stole the Democratic nomination from him, but Comrade Sanders’ supporters didn’t vote for Hillary. Not enough has changed to make one think that a four-way race among Trump, Biden or another Democrat, someone left of Biden and someone more libertarian than Trump is impossible next year.

 

Trump’s “radical” government restructuring

Daniel Greenfield:

D.C. is the ultimate big government town. Food doesn’t grow there. A swamp does.

The USDA, under Trump, is trying to actually move personnel closer to where food does grow.

Employees at USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) intend to move from Washington, D.C. to an unspecified area in the Kansas City region by the end of 2019, the Washington Post reports.

Of course there’s screeching at the idea.

Why it matters: “Employees, congressional Democrats and a bipartisan coalition of former USDA leaders” have warned that the move “would devastate the two agencies,” per the Post. ERS and NIFA have both recently unionized and some “union officials have promised to fight the move.”

Food.

Washington D,C. doesn’t grow it. Missouri on the other hand has over 100,000 farms.

The swamp is whining that it might actually have to be located near where its supposed jurisdiction is located as opposed to enjoying the good life in D.C. while coming no closer to actual agriculture than the lobbyists for various concerns.

This should be the beginning of a precedent.

Several hundred employees of the Economic Research Service and National Institute of Food and Agriculture will be asked to move “closer to customers,” in the language of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who announced the final location on Thursday morning.

“Following a rigorous site selection process, the Kansas City Region provides a win-win–maximizing our mission function by putting taxpayer savings into programmatic outputs and providing affordability, easy commutes and extraordinary living for our employees,” Perdue said. “The Kansas City Region has proven itself to be hub for all things agriculture and is a booming city in America’s heartland. There is already a significant presence of USDA and federal government employees in the region, including the Kansas City ‘Ag Bank’ Federal Reserve,” his statement continued. “This agriculture talent pool, in addition to multiple land-grant and research universities within driving distance, provides access to a stable labor force for the future. The Kansas City Region will allow ERS and NIFA to increase efficiencies and effectiveness and bring important resources and manpower closer to all of our customers.”

A new cost-benefit analysis—a tool that critics of the planned move had long said was lacking—showed that the move will save nearly $300 million over 15 years, or $20 million a year, the department said. The state and local governments involved offered relocation incentives of more than $26 million.

But… our entire country is supposed to be run out of a few blue urban cities.

That prompted this Wisconsin comment:

Imagine that…the people who regulate agriculture having to live near it. Now they will smell the manure in person, but it won’t smell nearly as bad as their right of entitlement corruption.

Make them all inspect hog pens in person. If they don’t, fire them and hire one of the tens of thousands of farmers who have gone broke because of the corruption in DC.

Governor Walker tried to move the Department of Natural Resources out of Madison but was met with all kinds of ridiculously hyperbolic resistance. Wisconsin’s DNR has become a haven for man-hating lesbian environmentalists who use their power as game wardens or attorneys to attack hunters and fishermen. They didn’t want the DNR to leave their power base in Madison.

The protesting employees should be mandated to move or seek employment elsewhere. This should have been done yesterday. For instance, there was this other comment:

Next thing you know, “Homeland Security” will be moving to the Southern Border.

On the other hand …

I feel sorry for the people having their lives ruined. In KC.

Because free speech always needs defending

Bosch Fawstin:

What kind of world would it be if no one drew Mohammad? A world without Free Speech, like the Islamic world. I never want to live in that world, and drawing Mohammad is how I personally keep that world at bay. Unfortunately, almost no one is drawing Mohammad cartoons today. The horrible fact is that terrorism has worked. The violent response to criticism of Islam and of Mohammad cartoons has made those of us who continue to criticize Islam and draw Mohammad a very small minority, making us easier to pick off by leftists who want to character assassinate us, in order to ban us from mainstream society, and Muslims who want to literally assassinate us. (The word assassin is of Arabic origin).

Whatever reason that those who can draw and who claim to support Free Speech don’t draw Mohammad –and I’ve heard it all, from them claiming that they have no “interest” in doing so, to it’s just not their “thing”- the simple reason is that the murders and death threats have shut them up and shut down their alleged support for freedom. Islam’s got their tongues and their pens, and they’re ashamed to admit it. People ask me why I draw Mohammad, since I get death threats, and the reason I draw Mohammad is because of the death threats. The way I see it, death threats are not a reason to NOT draw Mohammad, but TO draw Mohammad. I never set out to draw Mohammad, and even being raised Muslim, I didn’t know of the Islamic prohibition of drawing him, but when Danish cartoonists were threatened with death over drawing Mohammad, I did what’s natural for someone who loves freedom, especially when it’s threatened, and I began drawing Mohammad, and I haven’t stopped since.

My winning Mohammad cartoon explicitly spells out why I draw Mohammad in the first place, and that’s in defiance of the Islamic prohibition, which leads Muslims to threaten to murder over cartoons. Though Mohammad cartoons are blamed for inciting Islamic violence, in truth, it’s Islamic violence that incites Mohammad cartoons.

Mark Steyn wrote the following about my winning Mohammad cartoon, in his article “Stay Silent And You’ll Be Okay” :

“It’s less about Mohammed than about the prohibition against drawing Mohammed—and the willingness of a small number of Muslims to murder those who do, and a far larger number of Muslims both enthusiastic and quiescent to support those who kill. Mr.Fawstin understands the remorseless logic of one-way multiculturalism—that it leads to the de facto universal acceptance of Islamic law.”

We’ve failed to avenge 9/11, and we’re allowing a very defeatable enemy to remained undefeated, nearly 18 years later, as it continues to mass murder across the world. We’ve failed to defend Free Speech after the Danish Mohammad Cartoons and the Charlie Hebdo massacre, with almost no Western publication publishing the Mohammad cartoons. We all know, but rarely admit, that the vast majority of Western politicians who are charged to protect us can live with the deaths of Westerners at the hands of Muslims, (though they can’t live with criticism of Islam) and that bottomless corruption has spilled over into the West at large, poisoning the majority of us who can now live with the deaths of our fellow Westerners, with very little protest.

We still have freedom of speech, yet far too many of us operate as if it’s long gone. And to those who think that we shouldn’t criticize Islam until government guarantees our safety, as some have told me over the years: Freedom isn’t won and maintained by keeping our mouths shut. That’s how tyranny wins. I have never waited for government protection to speak out against Islam and draw Mohammad, and those who claim to be waiting for this government protection that doesn’t exist, were never going to speak out against Islam or draw Mohammad anyway. It’s their ultimate excuse to remain silent in the face of evil. “But it’s not my duty!”, some cry. It’s about self-respect, it’s about being honest, it’s about not allowing evil to have its way in the world. It’s about exercising your right to speak while you still have it.

We’ve been warned about government censorship, we were worried about the FCC, but in this post-9/11 world, we’re censoring ourselves, and the government wouldn’t have it any other way. We, the people, are doing their dirty work for them, and government bureaucrats are sitting back and laughing their asses off. We’re censoring ourselves daily, from powerful leftist-run social media and tech companies punishing us for challenging their anti-Western, pro-Islam agenda, to leftists across our culture crusading against speech that they hate, which they call “hate speech”, to conservatives placing “respect” for religion above necessary criticism of Islam, to the worst censorship of all, self-censorship. So long as we have Free Speech, we must exercise it, because without it, Freedom is over.

Those who are waiting for the coast to be clear in order to speak the truth about Islam and to draw Mohammad, are parasites who are relying on others to clear the coast.

Truth-tellers don’t wait for guaranteed government protection before speaking the truth- as they’re honest enough to know that there’s no such thing- and they continue telling the truth about Islam and to draw Mohammad, even in the face of threats. Those who say what must be said will hopefully lead to those in power finally doing what must be done.

If we act as if Free Speech is over, it will be.

(Company you don’t like)‘s taxes

Tyler Cowen:

The main reason Amazon as a corporate entity does not pay much in taxes is because the company so vigorously reinvests its profit. The resulting expensing provisions lower their tax liabilities, in some cases down to zero or near-zero.

That is, in fact, the kind of incentive our tax system is supposed to create, and does so only imperfectly, noting that many economists have suggested moving to full expensing.

Amazon pays plenty in terms of payroll taxes and also state and local taxes. Nor should you forget the taxes paid by Amazon’s employees on their wages. Not only is that direct revenue to various levels of government, but the incidence of those taxes falls somewhat on Amazon, which now must pay higher wages to offset the tax burden faced by their employees.

Not everyone wants to live in NYC or Queens! (Do you agree with Paul Krugman’s charge that the Trump tax cuts are mainly a giveaway to capital? If so, you probably also should believe that the wage taxes paid by Amazon employees fall largely on capital.)

There is no $3 billion that NYC gets to keep if Amazon does not show up. That “money” was a pledged reduction in Amazon’s future tax burden at the state and local level.

When it comes to the discussion surrounding Amazon and taxes, I can only sigh…

As do I, because businesses don’t pay taxes; their customers do as part of the cost of a product or service. Reducing business taxes is the source of considerable campaign spending. So if business taxes were zero, there would be less money donated to candidates. In addition, prices would be lower, or companies would have higher profits, which would be returned to shareholders in higher dividends, reinvested in companies, or sent to workers in higher pay.

 

The newest reasons to hate Madison

The Nation profiles the People’s Republic of Madison and its new general secretary — I mean mayor:

The woman I met at the Ancora Coffee on King Street near the state capitol building came across as someone more comfortable leading a committee meeting than a protest chant. A white woman in her late 40s with short, wavy, gray-streaked hair, and striking gray-blue eyes, [Satya] Rhodes-Conway lacks the impassioned charisma of insurgents like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But it’s clear why her calm, thoughtful intelligence resonated with Madison voters: She is serious, knowledgeable, direct yet reserved, and careful with her words.

When asked, Rhodes-Conway acknowledged that Madison’s lefty reputation is, in some ways, “well-deserved”: “Our residents are, for the most part, depending what word you want to use, liberal, progressive, left-leaning, and the city is, in general, a very high Democratic-performing city.”

Our meeting spot certainly lived up to my image of Madison. Ancora is a Madison chain that serves espresso “sourced from the finest fair-trade organic beans” and sells strawberry-basil pop pastries from local bakeries. A sign proclaims in block capital letters, we filter coffee not people. At one point, a young woman approached the counter and trilled, “You guys have all the good gluten-free!”

Should I point out that most people are not gluten-intolerant, and that going gluten-free when you don’t have celiac disease could actually harm you?

But, Rhodes-Conway stressed, Madison isn’t all sweetness, light, and power to the people. The local government, she said, “has not always kept up with that reputation.” There are areas in which the city provides a high level of service, and others in which it has fallen behind. She cited climate change as an area where Madison has lagged, adding that she is working to address it. Flooding in August 2018 reminded many Madisonians that the city needs to strengthen its resilience in the face of changing weather patterns. “Adaptation is critical,” said Rhodes-Conway in April.

How did Madison end up with an earnest female mayor not content to let the city rest on its lefty laurels? In early April, Rhodes-Conway, a former Madison City Council member who directed the Mayors Innovation Project at UW-Madison, beat the incumbent mayor, Paul Soglin, 62 to 38 percent. Soglin was first elected mayor of Madison in 1973, at the age of 27. A lawyer and activist who once gave Fidel Castro a key to the city, he went on to serve three nonconsecutive spans—from 1973–79, 1989–97, and 2011–19—earning the moniker “Mayor for life.” In unseating Soglin, Rhodes-Conway became just the second woman and the first openly LGBT mayor in the city’s history.

Rhodes-Conway’s margin of victory was arguably more surprising than her victory itself. She was helped by the fact that Soglin said in July 2018 that he would not seek reelection, praised her as “far superior in every way” to his other challengers, and then changed his mind in November 2018 and decided to seek another term after all.

But what explains the decisiveness of Rhodes-Conway’s victory? One answer, she said, is that she ran a “strong grassroots campaign” in which volunteers “knocked on a lot of doors,” in addition to reaching voters through social media, calling, and texting. Her campaign also had “a positive message, presented a vision, and talked about what’s possible.”

Part of that vision involves addressing Madison’s racial inequity: “I think people feel, white people feel, that we live in a very progressive city that is really good for people, and that is really not true for people of color and particularly for African Americans.” Black people account for 6.5 percent of Madison’s population, compared with 39 percent in nearby Milwaukee. A 2019 report ranked Wisconsin the most segregated state in America.

During her campaign, Rhodes-Conway talked about the city’s need to support minority entrepreneurship in the retail, service, and entertainment industries and said she would create an Office of Community Engagement. She also pledged to work with community groups and focus on neighborhood development.

In addition to advancing racial equity, she described her biggest priorities as expanding affordable housing, improving bus service, and addressing climate change. Our conversation doesn’t stray far from those topics. Despite being Madison’s first openly LGBT mayor, she does not raise the topic of LGBT equality, nor did she discuss it much while running for office (in 2014, Madison was named the 10th-most-LGBT-friendly city in America).

When asked which American public figures she most admires, she does mention several openly gay politicians, as well as Michelle Obama. “I’m trying to not name any presidential candidates,” she laughingly confessed. When I pressed, she politely but firmly demurred and pivoted to praising Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin—like Rhodes-Conway, an openly gay graduate of Smith College—for “her ability to calmly and quietly get the work done.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if someone’s sexual preference were no one’s business besides that person’s?

She also brought up John DeStefano, the former mayor of New Haven. She said she once heard DeStefano deliver a speech in which he declared, “America can be a great nation or it can be a racist nation, but it can’t be both.” Rhodes-Conway was impressed: “To hear this older white man in a position of power name that, to me, was really powerful.”

Rhodes-Conway places a high premium on acknowledging privilege and bringing in multiple constituencies. Before making decisions, she said, she seeks out as many viewpoints as possible. Her instinct “is always to find a way to be collaborating or in partnership with somebody.”

I bet there’s one constituency she does not seek out.

At one point I asked, if she could fix one of Madison’s problems unilaterally, without needing the cooperation of the Republican-controlled state government, what would it be? After a moment’s hesitation—“Boy,” she said, “Just one or two?”—she replied that strengthening tenant protections would be number one. “That’s where people are hurting the most.” After that, she would tackle wage-and-hour laws and expand worker protections, including the minimum wage, earned sick time, fair scheduling, and paid parental leave. Finally, she returned to a central theme of her campaign: the need to restore regional transportation authority, which the state legislature effectively abolished in 2011.

There is a way to avoid where people are “hurting the most.” Move outside of Madison. No one has to live in Madison, or anywhere else.

When it comes to implementing progressive policies at the municipal level, she said, cities can and must lead the way, because that kind of leadership is “not happening at the federal level”—nor, depending on where you live, at the state level, either. Rhodes-Conway seems to believe that Madison, if properly run, could serve as a beacon to the world, not just Wisconsin.

Although she has called Madison home for nearly 20 years, she moved here from Long Beach, California. Her quality of life, she said, is simply better here, adding that “part of that is my privilege as a white person.”

Madison has many assets, including natural beauty, the university, and a strong economy. “It is a great place to live,” she said, emphatically. “And it can be a great place for everyone to live.”

If weapons are outlawed, only outlaws will have weapons

Reuters:

London police investigated more murders than their New York counterparts did over the last two months, statistics show, as the British capital’s mayor vowed to fight a “violent scourge” on the streets.

There were 15 murders in London in February against 14 in New York, according to London’s Metropolitan Police Service and the New York Police Department. For March, 22 murders were investigated in London, with 21 reports in New York.

In the latest bloodshed, a 17-year-old girl died on Monday after she was found with gunshot wounds in Tottenham, north London, a day after a man was fatally stabbed in south London.

“The Mayor is deeply concerned by violent crime in the capital – every life lost to violent crime is a tragedy,” a spokeswoman for Mayor Sadiq Khan said in a statement on Tuesday.

“Our city remains one of the safest in the world … but Sadiq wants it to be even safer and is working hard to bring an end to this violent scourge.”

Including January’s figures, New York had still experienced more murders so far this year than London. The cities have a similar-sized population.

Gun violence is much less of a problem in Britain, which has strict gun control laws, than in the United States, and most British police are not equipped with firearms.

But British politicians and police are increasingly expressing concern about London’s rising murder rate, which is driven by a surge in knife crime. Of the 47 murders in London so far this year, 31 have been committed with knives.

Britain’s interior ministry said it was consulting on new laws to further restrict dangerous weapons, including banning online stores from delivering knives to residential addresses and making it an offence to possess certain weapons in public.

“This government is taking action to restrict access to offensive weapons as well as working to break the deadly cycle of violence and protect our children, families and communities,” a Home Office spokesman said.

Khan, who has been in office since May 2016, is from the opposition Labour Party. Before him, Conservative Boris Johnson was mayor for eight years. The national government has been run by the Conservatives since 2010, with Prime Minister Theresa May previously serving as interior minister from 2010 to 2016.

Britain’s most senior officer, London police chief Cressida Dick, said gangs were using online platforms to glamorize violence, adding that disputes between young people could escalate within minutes on social media.

The Ben Kinsella Trust, an anti-knife crime charity named after a young victim, said social media amplified a range of other factors that have contributed to the crisis.

The charity’s CEO Patrick Green said there had been extra funding to tackle knife crime, which he welcomed, but added that the government needed to act with more urgency and that budget cuts affecting youth services had played a part.

“This has been a horrendous year. It’s looking like it’ll be worse that last year, which was worse than the year before,” he told Reuters.

“The response so far has been too slow… It feels like we’re in a crisis and we need to respond in that way.”

The British banning guns hasn’t stopped shootings. The growing ban on knives hasn’t stopped stabbings. And then there’s this, from London’s Sun:

The UK has seen a disturbing surge in acid attacks in recent years with London being the worst hit.

There are plans to further restrict the sale of corrosive substances — but why are such brutal attacks on the rise?

The UK has one of the highest rates of acid attacks per capita in the world, according to Acid Survivors Trust International (ASTI).

It claims the country does not have “tight controls on acid sales” or “legislation specific to acid attacks”.

ASTI’s figures, quoting the police, reveal the number of recorded attacks has increased nearly three-fold from 228 recorded crimes in 2012 to 601 attacks in 2016.

With more than 400 incidents reported in the six months, 2017  was widely regarded as the worst ever year for acid attacks.

Unlike in other countries, where 80 per cent of acid attacks are against women, in the UK most victims are men, ASTI says.

Gang disputes are said to be behind the rise in acid attacks in London and other British cities.

London has emerged as a hot spot for acid attacks in recent years, with more than half of incidents within the UK taking place in the capital.

The number of cases more than doubled from less than 200 in 2014 to 431 in 2016, with Scotland Yard focusing on specific parts of the city.

Outside of the capital, areas such as the West Midlands and Essex have also seen large rises in acid attacks in recent years as reports soared from 340 in 2014 to 843.

There are guns all over the U.S., and for that matter knives, and for that matter substances that can be used in acid attacks. And yet most guns and knives aren’t used for nefarious means. Maybe it’s the people.

 

The conservatives

Perhaps Matthew Continetti should have written this before the 2016 Republican presidential primary:

I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican Party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s—gun rights, pro-life, taxpayer, right to work—and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.

It’s a common mistake to conflate these groups. The Republican Party is a vast coalition that both predates and possibly will post-date the conservative movement. That movement has had mixed success in moving the party to the right, partly because of cynicism and corruption but also because politicians must, at the end of the day, take into account the shifting and often contradictory views of their constituents. The conservative intellectual movement exercises the least power of all. You could fit its members into a convention hall or, more likely, a cruise ship.

Ideas matter. But the relation of ideas to political action is difficult to measure and often haphazard. The line between shaping a politician’s rhetoric and decisions and merely reflecting them is awfully fuzzy. The conservative intellectual movement, in addition to generating excellent writing, has had seven real-world applications since its formation after the Second World War: originalism and supply side economics in the 1970s; welfare reform and crime policy in the 1980s and ’90s; educational choice and reform over the last two decades; James Burnham’s anti-Communist strategies that found expression in the Reagan Doctrine; and the counterinsurgency plan known as the “surge” that prevented the defeat of American forces in the second Iraq war. There have been other successes, for sure, but also plenty of setbacks. What’s important to remember is that liberals as well as Republicans, conservative activists, and conservative intellectuals contested every single one of these policies.

The story goes that, for many years, American conservatives adhered to a consensus known as “fusionism.” Economic and social conservatives put aside their differences. Freedom, they decided, was necessary for the exercise of virtue. The struggle against and ultimate defeat of the Soviet Union was more important than domestic politics or intramural disagreements. Conservative intellectuals eager to privilege either freedom or virtue like to attack this consensus, which they often describe as “zombie Reaganism.” The truth is that the strength of fusionism always has been exaggerated. The conservative intellectual movement has been and continues to be fractious, contentious, combustible, and less of a force than most assume.

Episodes of division and strife are far more common than moments of unity and peace. The more you study the history of American conservatism, the less willing you are to describe it in monolithic terms. There isn’t one American right, there are multitudes, every one of them competing for the attention of politicians and policymakers. The most prominent and politically salient varieties, as expressed in William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review, Irving Kristol’s Public Interest, Norman Podhoretz’s Commentary, and William Kristol’s Weekly Standard, have weakened or disappeared altogether. One of the reasons the intra-conservative argument has become so personal and acrimonious is that nothing has replaced them.

Indeed, the situation today is awfully similar to that which confronted conservatives in the 1970s. Then, the Buckley consensus had to find a modus vivendi with neoconservatives as well as with the Catholic integralists around Triumph magazine, against the background of a populist revolt that called out failing elites while relying on racial and ethnic appeals that sometimes crossed the border of decency.

The campaign and election of Donald Trump complicated this already cloudy picture. The debate over Trump’s character and fitness for office opened, or poured salt on, wounds that have not and will not heal. Moreover, the varying opinions of Donald Trump the person became hard to disentangle from divergent assessments of his program. Fights over his rhetoric and behavior morphed into struggles over his economic and foreign policies, then changed back again. It became all too easy to score points by associating one’s opponents with either Trump’s most radical supporters or his most vociferous detractors.

Trump’s victory seemed to favor one side over the other. But such vindication may turn out to be just as much a mirage as the “zombie Reaganism” straw man. It does Trump supporters no favors to ignore the facts: The president did not win a majority, captured a smaller percentage of the popular vote than Mitt Romney, and took the Electoral College thanks to 77,000 votes spread over three states. It is also the case that to date President Trump has been most successful when he has adhered to the traditional Republican program of tax cuts, defense spending, and judicial appointments.

The rise of Donald Trump, Brexit, and nation-state populism throughout the world certainly suggest that something has changed in global politics. American conservatism ought to investigate, recognize, and assimilate the empirical reality before it. The trouble is that no one has concluded definitively what that reality is.

Not for lack of trying. Beginning in 2016, intellectuals who favored Trump have been searching for a new touchstone for conservative thought and politics. These writers are often described as populists, but that label is hard to define. Broadly speaking, they have adopted the banner of nationalism. They believe the nation-state is the core unit of geopolitics and that national sovereignty and independence are more important than global flows of capital, labor, and commodities. They are all, in different ways, reacting to perceived failures, whether of Buckley conservatism, George W. Bush’s presidency, or the inability of the conservative movement to stop same-sex marriage and the growth of the administrative state. And they have turned away from libertarian arguments and economistic thinking. Not everything, these thinkers believe, can be reduced to gross domestic product.

This emphasis on the nation as not only an economic but a political entity is apparent in the title of the “National Conservatism” conference to be held by the Edmund Burke Foundation next month in Washington, D.C. It is best articulated in Christopher DeMuth’s essay in the Winter 2019 Claremont Review of Books, “Trumpism, Nationalism, and Conservatism.” The Claremont Institute and its affiliated publications, including the new website The American Mind, have taken the lead in attempting to develop a pro-Trump conservatism in line with the principles of the American Founding.

Like populism, however, nationalism is a capacious idea that encompasses many subsets of opinion. Claremont may be the main site of nationalist conservatism, but it is not alone. Within the nationalist camp, broadly defined, are four schools of thought. Each is associated with a young Republican senator. The lines between these persuasions blur—some of the senators I name could fit into different categories, and others might not accept the labels I am about to bestow on them—but the conservative terrain has become so difficult to navigate that it’s useful to have a map. Let me take you through this new territory.

The Jacksonians

Some conservatives—myself included—see Donald Trump through the lens of Jacksonian politics. They look to Walter Russell Mead’s landmark essay in the Winter 1999 / 2000 National Interest, “The Jacksonian Tradition in American Foreign Policy,” as not only a description of the swing vote that brought us Trump, but also as a possible guide to incorporating populism and conservatism.

The Jacksonians, Mead said, are individualist, suspicious of federal power, distrustful of foreign entanglement, opposed to taxation but supportive of government spending on the middle class, devoted to the Second Amendment, desire recognition, valorize military service, and believe in the hero who shapes his own destiny. Jacksonians are anti-monopolistic. They oppose special privileges and offices. “There are no necessary evils in government,” Jackson wrote in his veto message in 1832. “Its evils exist only in its abuses.”

This is a deep strain in American culture and politics. Jacksonians are neither partisans nor ideologues. The sentiments they express are older than postwar conservatism and in some ways more intrinsically American. (They do not look toward Burke or Hayek or Strauss, for example.) The Jacksonians have been behind populist rebellions since the Founding. They are part of a tradition, for good and ill, that runs through William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy, George Wallace, Ronald Reagan, Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot, Jim Webb, Sarah Palin, the Tea Party, and Donald Trump. The Jacksonians believe in what their forebears called “The Democracy.” They are the people who remind us that America is not ruled from above but driven from below. Irving Kristol captured some of Jacksonianism’s contradictions when he described the movement as “an upsurge of revolt against the moneyed interests, an upsurge led by real estate speculators, investors, and mercantile adventurers, which spoke as the voice of the People while never getting much more than half the vote, and which gave a sharp momentum to the development of capitalism, urbanism, and industrialism while celebrating the glories of the backwoodsman.”

The Jacksonians have extended their conception of the in-group to include Americans of every ethnicity and race. The somewhat slippery distinction they make is between American and foreigner. I say slippery because sometimes it is hard to tell when Jacksonians decide to accept a legal immigrant as fully American. Jacksonians emphasize borders. They are happy to see the government direct benefits to the middle class. They don’t want to reform entitlements. They are willing to accept short-term sacrifice if it ends up benefiting the people. They are skeptical of preemptive war, but if a conflict arises they want to finish the job quickly and ferociously. “The very faults of the persuasion as a guide to prudent statesmanship,” wrote historian Marvin Meyers, “may have been its strength as a call to justice. For a society inevitably committed to maximizing economic gains, this persuasion in its various forms has been the great effective force provoking men to ask what their nation ought to be.”

The Jacksonian in the Senate is Tom Cotton. He’s taken the lead on conservative immigration reform. A supporter of the president, he is also a national security hawk. He was perfectly Jacksonian when he said a conflict with Iran, should it erupt, would be swiftly concluded due to overwhelming American force. A native of rural Arkansas and an Army veteran, his new book Sacred Duty describes the Jacksonian code of honor and sacrifice. If you want to know where this key swing vote in American politics is headed, watch Cotton.

The Reformocons

Reform conservatism began toward the end of George W. Bush’s presidency, with the publication of Yuval Levin’s “Putting Parents First” in The Weekly Standard in 2006 and of Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party in 2008. In 2009, Levin founded National Affairs, a quarterly devoted to serious examinations of public policy and political philosophy. Its aim is to nudge the Republican Party to adapt to changing social and economic conditions.

In 2014, working with the YG Network and with National Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru, Levin edited “Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms for a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class.” The report was the occasion for a lot of publicity, including a Sam Tanenhaus article in the New York Times Magazine asking, “Can the GOP Be a Party of Ideas?

Trump both hindered and aided reform conservatism. He dealt it a setback not only because reform conservatives opposed him in the primary (and many in the general) and he knows how to keep a grudge. He also defeated the reform conservatives’ most promising champion, Marco Rubio. And he did it in part by emphasizing two issues, trade and immigration, that were missing from “Room to Grow.”

But that is not the end of the story. Trump also obliquely aided reform by smashing the status quo and proving the Douthat and Salam thesis that support from whites without college degrees is essential to Republican victory. After the election, Rubio kept advocating for democracy and human rights, but jettisoned supply-side orthodoxy. He fought successfully to expand the child tax credit in the 2017 tax bill. He proposed a paid parental leave policy and criticized stock buybacks. In 2018 he delivered a speech arguing for a “new nationalism” based on “an economy built on the dignity of work,” the family as “the most central institution in society,” “working together in community,” and “the belief that every human being is endowed by God with an inalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Rubio has cited Oren Cass’s The Once and Future Worker (2018). It’s worth noting that Cass is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where Salam recently became president. Meanwhile, Levin’s follow-up to his Fractured Republic (2016) is a call for rebuilding institutions crucial to the formation of character. Reform conservatism, in other words, is far from being a spent force.

The Paleos

Where the paleoconservatives distinguish themselves from the other camps is foreign policy. The paleos are noninterventionists who, all things being equal, would prefer that America radically reduce her overseas commitments. Though it’s probably not how he’d describe himself, the foremost paleo is Tucker Carlson, who offers a mix of traditional social values, suspicion of globalization, and noninterventionism every weekday on cable television.

Carlson touched off an important debate with his January 3 opening monologue on markets. “Culture and economics are inseparably intertwined,” Carlson said. “Certain economic systems allow families to thrive. Thriving families make market economies possible. You can’t separate the two.”

Carlson’s indictment of America’s “ruling class” and “the ugliest parts of our financial system” was remarkable for several reasons. First, he delivered it on a network whose opinion programs normally laud American capitalism and free enterprise. Second, the speech was wide-ranging, criticizing everyone from Mitt Romney to Sheryl Sandberg to parents who let their kids smoke weed. Third, Carlson offered a theory of the case. Social decline, he said, is related to the loss of manufacturing jobs. It happened in the inner cities. Now it’s happening in the Rust Belt and in rural America. When jobs disappear and low-skilled male wages decline, family formation breaks down.

While Carlson noted in passing that wage income is taxed at a higher rate than investment income, he did not make any specific proposals. “I’m not a policy guy, I’m a talk show host, but I sincerely believe that no problem is solved unless you have a clear image in your mind of what you want the result to be,” he told Michael Brendan Dougherty at the National Review Institute conference in March. Earlier this month, he welcomed John Burtka, the chairman of the paleo journal The American Conservative (TAC), on to his program. Burtka argued for treating the social media giants as monopolies. Carlson loved it.

In a separate piece for TAC, Burtka offered a defense of “economic nationalism.” He advocated a national industrial strategy, without providing many details, though presumably incorporating some mixture of tariffs and government-directed investment. This reluctance toward nuts-and-bolts legislative proposals is widespread. “We still need to figure out a lot of the details for how this vision of conservative politics, a pro-family, pro-worker, pro-American nation, conservatism actually looks in practice,” J.D. Vance told a recent TAC gala. We’re waiting!

Paleos have brought renewed attention to the condition of American communities. Tim Carney of the American Enterprise Institute and Washington Examinerdevotes his new book, Alienated America, to the frayed bonds that barely connect working-class Americans to each other. Like Carlson, Mike Lee might not accept the paleo label, but he best represents this mixture of traditionalism, communitarianism, and nonintervention in the U.S. Senate. His social capital project is a major effort to assess the strengths and vulnerabilities of American society. He’s worked with Rubio on parental leave, though it should be said that unlike paleos he opposes Trump’s trade policies. Paleos might not have exact answers when it comes to domestic policy, but they are certain American foreign policy should be restrained, within constitutional bounds, and prioritize diplomacy over military force.

The Post-liberals

Here is a group that I did not see coming. The Trump era has coincided with the formation of a coterie of writers who say that liberal modernity has become (or perhaps always was) inimical to human flourishing. One way to tell if you are reading a post-liberal is to see what they say about John Locke. If Locke is treated as an important and positive influence on the American founding, then you are dealing with just another American conservative. If Locke is identified as the font of the trans movement and same-sex marriage, then you may have encountered a post-liberal.

The post-liberals say that freedom has become a destructive end-in-itself. Economic freedom has brought about a global system of trade and finance that has outsourced jobs, shifted resources to the metropolitan coasts, and obscured its self-seeking under the veneer of social justice. Personal freedom has ended up in the mainstreaming of pornography, alcohol, drug, and gambling addiction, abortion, single-parent families, and the repression of orthodox religious practice and conscience. “When an ideological liberalism seeks to dictate our foreign policy and dominate our religious and charitable institutions, tyranny is the result, at home and abroad,” wrote the signatories to “Against the Dead Consensus,” a post-liberal manifesto of sorts published in First Things in March.

“The ambition of neoliberalism,” wrote the editor of First Things in the spring of 2017, “is to weaken and eventually dissolve the strong elements of traditional society that impede the free flow of commerce (the focus of nineteenth-century liberalism), as well as identity and desire (the focus of postmodern liberalism). This may work well for the global elite, but ordinary people increasingly doubt it works for them.” The result, he said, has been populist calls for the “strong gods” of familial, national, and religious authority.

The post-liberals are mainly but not exclusively traditionalist Catholics. Their most prominent spokesman is Patrick J. Deneen, whose Why Liberalism Failed(2018) was recommended by that ultimate progressive, Barack Obama. Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony’s Virtue of Nationalism (2018) is another important entry in the post-liberal canon. Hazony has contributed essays to both First Things (“Conservative Democracy“) and American Affairs (“What Is Conservatism?“) making the case for conservatism without Locke, Jefferson, and Paine.

The post-liberals have put forward two contradictory political strategies. The first, advanced by Rod Dreher, who is Eastern Orthodox, is the Benedict Option of turning away from the secular world and shielding, as best you can, spiritual life. The second, as put by Sohrab Ahmari also in First Things, is “to use these values [of civility and decency] to enforce our order and our orthodoxy, not pretend that they could ever be neutral.”

Another post-liberal, Gladden Pappin of American Affairssays,

Rather than asking the question, ‘What should conservatives/progressives do?’ considerable advances can be made through certain purely practical considerations: ‘How can the integrity of the national political community be assured?’ ‘How can commercial activity and technological development continue to be turned toward the common good, and toward our own strategic advantage?’ ‘What can we do with the reins of power, that is, the state, to ensure the common good of our citizens?’

The closest the post-liberals have to a spokesman in the Senate is freshman Josh Hawley, who attends an evangelical Presbyterian church. Not six months into his term, Hawley has already established himself as a social conservative unafraid of government power. He has picked fights with the conservative legal establishment by criticizing two of President Trump’s judicial appointments. He has identified Silicon Valley as a threat to traditional values and proposed legislation to begin to rein in the tech industry. And in a little noticed commencement address to King’s College, he inveighed against the fact that

For decades now our politics and culture have been dominated by a particular philosophy of freedom. It is a philosophy of liberation from family and tradition; of escape from God and community; a philosophy of self-creation and unrestricted, unfettered free choice.

This “Pelagian vision”—Pelagius was a monk condemned by the Church fathers as a heretic—”celebrates the individual,” Hawley went on. But “it leads to hierarchy. Though it preaches merit, it produces elitism. Though it proclaims liberty, it destroys the life that makes liberty possible. Replacing it and repairing the profound harm it has caused is one of the great challenges of our day.”

The post-liberals say that the distinction between state and society is illusory. They argue that, even as conservatives defended the independence of civil society from state power, the left took over Hollywood, the academy, the media, and the courts. What the post-liberals seem to call for is the use of government to recapture society from the left. How precisely they intend to accomplish this has been left undefined. (Though the levy on large university endowments included in the 2017 tax bill is a start.)

Another question is whether the post-liberal project is sustainable in the first place. The post-liberals, like other nationalists, may have over-interpreted the results of the 2016 election. Trump is many things, but it is safe to say that he is not an integralist. Prominent online and in my Twitter feed, the post-liberals might also misjudge their overall numbers. Before they recapture the state, much less re-moralize a nation of 300 million and hundreds of sects and denominations, they must first convince their co-religionists.

Appeals to the common good are rhetorically powerful, but they often run up against the shoals of America’s constitutional structure and overwhelming emphasis on individual rights. That is one potential reason the post-liberals seem more interested in European philosophy and politics. It also could be why many of them are eager to abandon the term “conservatism.”

Which might be for the best. Fusionism’s critics say that it was historically contingent on the unique situation of the Cold War. But if you read the best expression of “fusionist” conservatism, the Sharon Statement of 1960, you see that its ideas of freedom and constitutionalism are deeply embedded in American intellectual traditions. “There is only one American political tradition,” wrote Irving Kristol, “and every political movement must obtain its sanction, invoking the same memories, the same names, the same archetypal images, even the very same quotations.” A conservatism that does not incorporate the ideas of freedom and civil and religious liberty that imprinted America at its birth not only would be unrecognizable to William F. Buckley, Barry Goldwater, and Ronald Reagan. Americans themselves would find it alien and unappealing. And rightly so.

 

Trump’s tariffs are so big …

Brett Arends wrote this last week:

I’m used to partisan, inaccurate drivel from all sides these days, but the media’s coverage of President Trump’s tariffs and the so-called “trade war” takes some kind of cake.

There’s no serious doubt that some in the media would absolutely love to tank the stock market. They figure that would hurt Trump’s re-election chances in 2020. Monday’s stock market slump, which saw the Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -1.41% tumble 2.4% and the Nasdaq Composite 3.4%, looked just like what the doctor ordered.

I write this, incidentally, as someone who is no fan of the president. But I remember when politics was supposed to stop at the water’s edge.

And, anyway, facts are facts. Most of what the public is being told about these tariffs is either misleading or a downright lie.

I’ve been following the coverage all weekend with my jaw on the floor.

Yes, tariffs are “costs.” But they do not somehow destroy our money. They do not take our hard-earned dollars and burn them in a big pile. Tariffs are simply federal taxes. That’s it. The extra costs paid by importers, and consumers, goes to Uncle Sam, to distribute as he sees fit, including, for example, on Obamacare subsidies.

It wasn’t long ago the media was complaining because Trump was cutting taxes. Now it’s complaining he’s raising them. Confused? Me too.

And the amounts involved are trivial. Chicken feed.

President Trump just hiked tariffs from 10% to 25% on about $200 billion in Chinese imports. In other words, he just raised taxes by … $30 billion a year.

Oh, no!

The total amount we all paid in taxes last year — federal, state and local — was $5.51 trillion. This tax increase that has everyone’s panties in a twist is a rounding error.

Meanwhile, the total value wiped off U.S. stocks during Monday’s panic was about $700 billion. More than 20 years’ worth of the new tariffs.

Even if Trump slapped 25% taxes on all Chinese imports, it would come to a tax hike of … $135 billion a year. U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) last year: $20.5 trillion.

So even this supposedly scary “escalation” of this “tariff war” would, er, raise our total tax bill from 26.9% of GDP all the way to 27.5% of GDP.

Oh, and isn’t it interesting to see some people’s priorities? Apparently the most shocking part of this trivial tax hike is that it might raise the price of new Apple iPhones.

Last I checked, these were luxury items, right?

Meanwhile, the trade spat seems to be bringing down food prices. China is going to take less of our farm products. So wheat prices are down 20% since the start of the year. Soybeans are at 10-year lows.

Good for consumers, right?

No, no, of course not! Silly you. This is also bad news … for farmers!

And all this ignores the much bigger picture, anyway.

The tariffs are simply a means to an end. The president is trying to get China to start buying more of our stuff. He knows the so-called Middle Kingdom, which now has the second-biggest economy in the world, responds to incentives more than to nice words. These tariffs give China an incentive to open up.

OK, so China’s first reaction is just to retaliate. Big deal. That’s just posturing.

Right now we export less to China than we do to Japan, South Korea and Singapore put together. That’s the point. So the effect of China’s new tariffs on the U.S. are yet another rounding error. Even if China banned all imports from the U.S., that would amount to only 0.6% of our gross domestic product. And we’d sell the stuff somewhere else.

Don’t buy the hysteria. President Trump is simply trying to pressure our biggest competitor to buy more American goods. That should be a good thing, even if you don’t like him.

Arends is not, as far as I know, a Republican or a conservative. Marketwatch lists him as “an award-winning financial columnist with many years experience writing about markets, economics and personal finance. He has received an individual award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers for his financial writing, and was part of the Boston Herald team that won two others. He has worked as an analyst at McKinsey & Co., and is a Chartered Financial Consultant. His latest book, Storm Proof Your Money, was published by John Wiley & Co.”

So Arends may be right. We better hope he is.

 

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