Sunday, July 4, 2010

Grasping the Concepts of Mutual Exclusivity and Industry Capture

“With polls showing voters deeply concerned about the economy and government spending and souring on Democrats, Obama and his party are seizing on gaffe after GOP gaffe, intent on making the election anything but a referendum on the majority.

“That means an obsessive, hour-by-hour focus on a micro-message—grasping every opportunity to shift attention away from their unpopular or tepidly-supported policies and toward anything that smacks of Republican extremism.”

—Jonathan Martin, in Politico

OK, well, the big-name punditry, of the left as well as the right, finally has stopped reflexively pronouncing the BP oil-spill disaster a political plus for the small-government/no-government crowd, having realized at last that the public actually does understand that it was the deregulation juggernaut of the past 30 years that allowed BP and the other oil companies to cut any corner they wished and take any risk they wanted in order to lower their operating costs and accelerating the rig-construction process. The fact that the government is unable to stop the leak is hardly an argument for small government, and the public’s objection to Obama’s handling of the matter is not that he ordered too much government interference and control but that he ordered too little and waited too long to involve the government at all, the big-name commentators finally recognize.

Congratulations to them.

And now that they’ve weaned themselves from the illogical CW on that issue, maybe they—and, in turn, Obama and the congressional Democratic candidates—can reexamine the axiom that because voters are deeply concerned about the economy and government spending, the voters are incapable of understanding that the government cannot both prompt a hiring spurt, or even halt the torrent of lay-offs and small-business failures, and at the same time reduce the current and immediate budget deficit.

What, exactly, does the public want the government to do about the unemployment rate? Nothing? If not nothing, then how, exactly, would the government spur economic growth and hiring without spending money?

The Senate Republicans have blocked the current proposed extension of unemployment benefits to millions of laid-off workers whose benefits have expired. It is unlikely that when these people’s homes fall into foreclosure, and when they stop buying even many basics, this will help lower the unemployment rate, raise home values, and help small business in their local communities.

For that matter, when firefighters, teachers and police officers join the ranks of the unemployed because the Republican senators have blocked additional financial aid to states and municipalities, this won’t boost the economy either. The vilified 2009 stimulus law kept a huge number of public employees and employees of some private contractors as well from joining the ranks of the unemployed, and their continued salaries were put back into the economy via mortgage and car payments, restaurant visits and the like. With the coming massive layoffs of state and municipal public employees, we’ll see just how terrific the Republican senators’ austerity choices are for economic recovery.

And then, of course, there’s the bailout of GM and Chrysler, which saved the jobs, directly, of probably well more than 100,000 employees of those companies and the companies’ supplier-manufacturers in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, certainly, but also in may other states as well. And those bailouts indirectly saved the jobs and the homes of a huge panoply of other workers.

But since we have a political punditry that thinks only in slogans, and since we have a Democratic president and a slew of Democratic candidates for election or reelection who happily acquiesce in the de rigor cliché-only style of politics and who can’t even image actually arguing specifics—including pointing out that mutually exclusive policies are, well, mutually exclusive, and that voters therefore need to pick one or the other policy to support, because they can’t really have both—we may well end up with a Congress of Sarah Palinites.

The answer for the Democrats, I think, is for the true head of the Democratic Party to step forward and campaign aggressively nationwide. She—Nancy Pelosi—who is the de facto president regarding domestic-policy issues, is both capable of explaining to the public what needs to be explained to the public and willing to do so.

What the news media is billing as Republican gaffes are gaffes only in that they tell the public what it is that the current Republican Party actually stands for—what their policy positions are. That the statements are considered gaffes rather than deliberate enunciations of ideology is testament to the sweeping acceptance of the most dangerous of all political truisms: that everyone lives inside the Palin-Beck bubble and that therefore the only way to win an election is to accept that this cannot be successfully explained to the public because politics cannot be anything other than generic slogans.

Small government, as the Republicans mean it, means no regulation of private industry and large corporations and no government monetary expenditure to spur economic growth and lower the unemployment rate.

They accomplish near-complete deregulation not only by repealing or amending regulatory statutes—a method that, for political reasons, they cannot use to completely deregulate—but also by the far quieter technique of what they themselves call “industry capture,” a concerted scheme to turn regulatory agencies over to the industries that the respective agency was created by statute to regulate. So the Minerals Management Bureau, for example, may be run by former oil company lobbyists. Most people don’t really want this.

And, since deficit reduction at a time of high unemployment is simply incompatible with what most people want the government to do, which is take strong measures to spur rather than hamper economic recovery. (Paul Krugman explains this clearly and bluntly in his New York Times column today.)

This is small government, Republican Party style. And it’s not very hard to explain. Yet only Nancy Pelosi seems willing to say it and can say it straightforwardly without some silly “concession” to the right that undercuts this truth.


[This post and its title were amended on July 5.]

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