Actually I am making that up, or perhaps it’s the implication I drew from one of Paul Krugman’s mindless rants against conservatism:
Start with the proposition that there is a legitimate left-right divide in U.S. politics, built around a real issue: how extensive should be make our social safety net, and (hence) how much do we need to raise in taxes? This is ultimately a values issue, with no right answer.
There are, however, a lot of largely empirical questions whose answers need not, in principle, be associated with one’s position on this left-right divide but, in practice, are. A partial list:
1.The existence of anthropogenic climate change
2.The effects of fiscal stimulus/austerity
3.The effects of monetary expansion, and the risks of inflation
4.The revenue effects of tax cuts
5.The workability of universal health care
1. I believe in anthropogenic climate change, as do many of the conservatives I know. I also favor carbon taxes, while many conservatives (not all) are skeptical.
2. I believe fiscal stimulus raises NGDP unless offset with monetary policy. Many conservatives agree. I believe that’s Krugman’s view as well. Didn’t President Bush implement fiscal stimulus in 2008?
3. I believe that monetary stimulus is needed, and that the risk of inflation/high interest rates is overrated. Isn’t that Krugman’s view? Krugman’s right that most conservatives oppose monetary stimulus, but lots of conservatives support it. My pieces have been published at Cato, the Adam Smith Institute, The American, National Affairs, and other conservative outlets. I did a panel at the AEI. I’ll speak at the Cato money conference in the fall. How many liberal outlets host pro-austerity papers?
4. I believe tax cuts usually cost revenue. Most conservatives I know believe the same. Isn’t that Krugman’s view?
5. I believe the Canadian health care system is “workable.” As far as I know all conservatives agree (although many prefer the US system.) I favor universal coverage, along the lines of the Singapore system.
On the other hand I seem to recall Brad DeLong suggesting that fiscal stimulus might actually reduce the budget deficit. That sounds awfully close to Laffer-curve voodoo. So maybe he should be exiled from the liberal tent.
BTW, I don’t agree that the size of government is a “values issue,” and even if I did I wouldn’t regard it as something with “no right answer.” (I guess he’s not a Rorty fan.) The policy disagreements are mostly on technical issues. Both sides think aggregate happiness would be higher if their preferred plan was adopted. As far as I know I have roughly the same (utilitarian) values as most liberals, and yet I think we would do better with a much smaller government. However I would shrink the government mostly by reducing complexity and regulatory reach; less so on the spending side.
And how about all the conservatives signing that petition for immigration reform? That would help the poor more than all the “liberal programs” combined.
Krugman links to pieces by Jonathan Chait and also Mike Konczal. While I share many of their reservations about the modern GOP, it struck me how little soul-searching there is during what must by any standard be viewed as a disastrous 6 month period for modern liberalism:
1. The left predicts fiscal austerity will slow the recovery, and yet both GDP and jobs are actually a bit ahead of the 2012 pace so far this year. In a widely ridiculed column Konczal actually points to the speed up in GDP growth during 2013 Q1 as evidence against the conservative view on austerity. Confirmation bias.
2. The popular left-wing view that monetary policy is ineffective at the zero bound gets blown right out of the water as the BOJ succeeds in sharply depreciating the yen. Even Krugman has admitted that if a country is truly stuck in a liquidity trap it would not be able to depreciate its currency.
3. An Oregon study designed to overcome the identification problem shows virtually no health benefits from Medicaid coverage. Yes, there are other good arguments for health insurance, and I favor universal health care, but for years the left has been bludgeoning the right with accusations that their mean-spirited policies would kill people.
4. Another study shows that giving computers to poor students doesn’t improve education outcomes. Yet the left constantly complains that we don’t spend enough educating poor students. When it’s pointed out that spending more doesn’t seem to help in cities like Washington DC, they switch gears and say; “Well you can’t blame the education system, it’s the home environment. But we still need to spend more.”
5. Internal Revenue Service
6. When Obama’s policies lead to the worst recovery since the Depression, the left adopts the Herbert Hoover defense. Hoover insisted (in the 1932 campaign) that the Depression would have been even worse without his steady hand at the tiller. Here’s Konczal:
They also understand that the Great Recession destroyed the previous consensus that we had solved the question of the business cycle. It’s tougher to argue that we should have a radically smaller federal government when it looks like the size of the government and automatic stabilizers helped keep the Great Recession from becoming a Great Depression-like collapse.
I wonder if Konczal realizes that even Krugman doesn’t go that far. Indeed Krugman recently argued we could avoid liquidity traps with a higher inflation target. There’s absolutely no benefit to big government if you are trying to avoid “depressions.” Last time I looked most of the “depressions” were located in Western Europe, which (coincidentally) has the largest governments in the developed world.
In contrast, Australia has one of the smallest, and had no recession. And Hong Kong has a rigid dollar peg, which exposed it to huge demand shocks in 1997 and 2001, and yet it avoided “depressions” despite having the smallest government sector in the entire developed world. Maybe it was those flexible labor markets that the liberals insist will only make a depression worse. But they’d reply that it’s better to have inflexible labor markets, like Greece and Spain.
I better stop now or even Bob Murphy will start agreeing with me. Got to keep my street cred with those fashionable liberals.
PS. And don’t tell me that Australia did fiscal stimulus; Konczal’s claim was that big government is needed going in, not just fiscal stimulus. However I probably sounded more anti-Konczal than I really am. I think his column described modern conservatism considerably more accurately than Krugman’s column. But not accurately enough to stop me from going off on my own mindless rant.
PPS. All I am saying is . . . people are complicated. Liberals, moderates, and conservatives like Yglesias/Avent/Cowen/Tabarrok get that. And other equally bright people never will.