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The Republican's Agenda of Fiscal Political Correctness

A spending freeze. This is the Republican suggestion. Consider for the moment the situation we are in: Though Republicans express concern about private investment being pushed out by public, our whole problem is the slack in private investment; nobody’s lending or investing as much as they could. The Fed can’t do anything, with interest rates at zero. The banks are practically insolvent. Who can pump up demand, stimulate this economy?

The Republicans don't want the answer to be "the government". But unfortunately, their policy has left no feasible alternative. But why did that happen?

I know the title might puzzle some, but it comes down to this: in it's original usage, political correctness referred to ideas and solutions that were in line with the Chinese Communist party under Mao. The Republicans like to use it against liberals because of its marxist stain, and because it provides a convenient way to fight for otherwise patently offensive things like reviving racism under the guise of defying one party or political group's "official" vision of things.

Ironically enough, such political incorrectness itself would qualify as a sort of, yes, political correctness, especially when it quickly becomes conventional wisdom within a party.

It can also be used, in its old sense, to denote policy and politics that's only correct in one way: according to the party line. For the Communists in China it would be politically incorrect to say that government shouldn't control the economy. For the Republicans in America, it's heretical to suggest government spending can help the economy.

Don't ask for backup, unless it comes from their pet ideologue think tank denizens. Though many of the real economists out there, even supply siders, believe that a massive government stimulus is necessary, they're just going to talk about pork, earmarks, and budget deficits, as if those are our biggest problem now.

Nearly every economic measure worth citing is screaming downwards at high velocity, and they're saying we should just let the market sort things out. Unemployment hasn't been this high in God knows how long, and its getting higher at a strong pace every month. But they're concerned policy might get too socialist.

That's their main concern. When they excuse their obstruction by saying they aren't against America's success (I'll grant them that), they cite philosophical concerns, concerns of what the economy might become if too much socialism is allowed. In other words, they don't care whether it works, or whether it can work. They care whether it follows their orthodoxy. Things must be done their way.

But couldn't you accuse the Democrats of the same?

Here's the trick, the distinguishing element: is it correct in fact?

In the past, the orthodox opinion was that race determined innate qualities like intelligence. Some Republicans, in supporting the thesis of The Bell Curve, have come down on the side of some minorities being innately less intelligent. The late Stephen Jay Gould offered a devastating response to them in his book The Mismeasure of Man. I'll present three problems with the Bell Curve author's thesis, as per his arguments in the book.

One problem: your genetic relatedness to somebody else, which would be the sole means of any such innate quality being passed down through heredity, has more to do with how close you are in your ancestral geography to the other person than in the color of their skin. That category of cultural perception is factually bankrupt as a category of genetic reality. If common heredity doesn't have much to do with one's race, then how can the inheritance of ability have much to do with it either?

Secondly, there are serious questions about what IQ test peformance actually means. A form of mathematics, factor analysis, was actually invented to derive the scores. The trouble is, you more or less have to massage the numbers to get an outcome that makes sense. It's more of a measure of correlation. It's useless for suggesting causation. The IQ point can't tell you why somebody scored well, beyond correct answers, which themselves are dependent on things like cultural knowledge, literacy, and other non-innate functions. Maybe it's useful for measurement of a certain kind of performance, but it's a confounded measure of a person's innate mental ability.

Finally, how do you scientifically measure ability, when there so many individual and incidental factors in how well people develop their abilities. There are people, who even when given the best chance, private schools, rich parents, libraries of information at their fingertips, etc, never reach their full potential. How can an IQ test distinquish between a slacker who hasn't taken full advantage of his gifts, and a person who doesn't have those gifts to begin with? And anyway, as a cultural, learning species, who says we're dependent on innate intelligence alone to begin with? The average person alive today knows more than the smartest person alive five hundred years ago.

So, in the long analysis, while you may accuse somebody disputing the Bell Curve thesis of being politically correct, the arguments against their theory make their opinion correct on the merits as well.

We see events in climate change moving about as we could expect them to move if Carbon Dioxide was the major factor in the warming. We see temperature rising disproportionately in places where and times when heat would normally be released (night, winter, at arctic latitudes, etc). We see Stratospheric cooling, a result of the change in the thermodynamics of the atmosphere, one which we would not see in cases where an increase in radiative energy from the son, or something like that were to occur. Some cite natural variability as if artificial forcings could not work with and around such natural changes. People insist that trace amounts of CO2 could not affect the ability of air to keep temperatures up, even though the earliest experiments about the gas confirmed the ability of the gas, in such small concentrations, to produce significant changes in the temperature of the air.

Folks on the right come up with one dispute after another, but it often seems like they're making challenges already answered in the scientific study of the issue, or they're speaking or writing in ignorance of the facts. The recent George Will controversy regarding sea ice is an example. I mean, how do you miss a decline in sea ice, the area of which could fit Texas, California, and Oklahoma combined? Well, you miss it because you're not looking for evidence to tell you what's true, you're looking for evidence to back your argument of what's true. And perhaps you're not being as thorough in your study or your disclosure as you might ideally want to be.

Politics is often invoked as the defining element of what's driving the concern over global warming by the right, as if it's all a liberal conspiracy of some kind. This seems to be the story that the Right gives out all too often to explain contradictory results, the failure of real correctness to catch up with their political correctness.

And political correctness it is. Economics is famously a soft science, so people can claim plenty of things without much grounding, but we do have history, and it can teach us a lot if we're not trying to shoe-horn it into a political perspective.

The Republicans claim that FDR's policies were terrible for the economy during the Great Depression History tells another story, of the GDP rising almost relentlessly out of the hole that Hoover put the economy in. True, the crisis didn't truly abate until World War II, but that could be because, as conservative Bruce Bartlett put it, Because FDR was too cautious and reluctant about stimulating the economy with further government spending and jobs programs until the war came along and made such investments and labor utilization a stark necessity.

It's kind of funny for Republicans to worry about pushing out private investment when our very problem is that private investors are keeping their money out of the market. It's funny for them to worry about the inflationary problems of deficit spending when the pressures on our economy are mostly deflationary. They want to believe that this recession will behave like the last two, when it's behaving more like the Great Depression.

It's simply not politically correct, in their view, for a large wave of spending to be the answer. It must be tax cuts, it must be spending cuts. That was tried by FDR, actually, about 1937. If you look at the graphs, you'll find that this is exactly the point at which growth stopped and turned downwards. Well, what about doing nothing? They did that in 1921, and it worked. Then 1929, and it was a disaster. It's arguable there that the deflation followed the war, and that as things got back to normal, they readjusted naturally. But there were far greater structural factors in the Great Depression that started in 1929 that made waiting for a natural resolution, which is what Republicans did for the most part, foolhardy.

The Republicans, as of late, have become a party ill-equpped to move outside their own political correctness, their own orthodoxy. They blame homeowners for loans they could not have gotten without the cooperation of the lenders. They blame a regulation that 96% of the top lenders didn't even fully have to comply with, not to mention one that has better than average rates on defaults. While measures to increase the markets for home loans played a part, they could not have lead to disaster without a financial system in place whose essential purpose was to pass on bad debt indefinitely, magically purifying corporate bottom lines of loans made with full knowledge that the borrowers could never repay. One solution they've offered is to cut the capital gains tax. Or cut the taxes that fund Medicare and Social Security (while at the same time making ominous rumblings about the program's solvency)

The Republican argument is based on trying to maintain and vindicate a certain regime of economic theories. They talk of philosophy. But what of practice? They talk of the undesired after-affects of a demand side government spending stimulus package. But do they offer any alternative besides the kinds of policies that already proved incapable of preventing this crisis, or worse, helped contribute to them?

That doesn't deter them. I've already blogged, of late, about the dishonest arguments that have been thrown out there, the use of language like "pork" and "earmark" and the perpetual appeal to nightmares of fiscal indiscipline to paint efforts to stimulate the economy as just fruitless, wasteful, irresponsible government waste. But who are we getting this from? People who were some of the biggest offenders regarding this in recent history. Meanwhile we have a real economic crisis raging, with real economists telling us that without strong intervention, the economy could get even worse.

We have to ask ourselves a serious question: do we care more about the political correctness of economic policy that the Republicans are intent on imposing, or do we care about being correct in fact? Is it truly moderate or centrist at this point to take the GOP's talking points seriously, given how profoundly wrong they've been proved time and time again? Are we being open-minded by being oblivious to demonstrated fact? Open mindedness does not require that we weigh all alternatives with equal seriousness and regard, but rather that we keep our eyes open as to what the real character of these things is, what the results of different approaches are.

We should approach the Republican's proposals and their theories with an open mind, but that does not mean excluding the mountains of evidence that their approach to the economy simply will not work. Indeed, we must let that sink in before we make the mistake of taking seriously their current proposals for how to respond to our situation.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at March 7, 2009 7:55 AM
Comments
Comment #277035

Stephen,
“The Republican argument is based on trying to maintain and vindicate a certain regime of economic theories.”

That summarizes it in a nutshell. As the old saying goes, when all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. The Republican argument says tax cuts are always the answer, regardless of the question.

In the 2000 election, the GOP advocated tax cuts, and the Congress mailed checks to Americans as a rebate, because there was a $10 trillion projected surplus.

After passing the Bush tax cuts and initiating a war in Iraq on the national credit card, the GOP answer was… wait for it… more tax cuts.

As the economy wheezed through the weakes recovery of post WWII, the GOP solution remained the same.

It never changes. The GOP cannot adapt to circumstances, in part because its answers are always geared to address the underlying basis of what has become modern conservatism. The underlying foundation is racism, exemplified by the Southern Stragey, and every policy is ultimately geared towards repressing poor minorities.

Posted by: phx8 at March 7, 2009 2:15 PM
Comment #277041

The one Republican stace on an issue which I can never understand is the rejection of anthropogenic climate change. I can see why Bush and the fossil fuel industry and GM would do their best to cast doubts upon it. However, most people do not work for GM or the fossil fuel industry. Yet the GOP followed Bush and fossil fuel in lockstep, even when virtually every fact disproved their claim, and supported the case for Global Warming. We even have the recent case with George Will, who either lied or passed on gross misinformation about the topic. I mean, it was simply, factually wrong. Why would Republicans go along with this? Really, I can’t make heads or tails of it. It doesn’t fit into any theory or philosophy or whatever. Just weird, weird and harmful.

Posted by: phx8 at March 7, 2009 4:03 PM
Comment #277047

The theory is that government should not be allowed to interfere with corporations in any way that’s bad or perceived to be bad for their bottom line. It’s the free market theory applied on the theory that the government’s picking a loser when it takes action.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 7, 2009 4:58 PM
Comment #277052

Stephen,

Do you realize that your argument amounts to basically diminishing the value of dissent?

Your guys are in total control; we have one party rule; something you once said was not good for the country. And what does it matter what Republicans say they can’t do anything.

Posted by: eric at March 7, 2009 7:00 PM
Comment #277055

Stephen,
The idea that the GOP = Corporatism makes sense. Another reason to deny AGW in the face of most evidence is the inability to cope with the solution. AGW implies a world of human beings with common interests. It goest beyond borders, and it can only be effectively addressed through the instrument of government. The solutions to AGW are intolerable to the GOP. Republicans would rather pretend the facts are wrong.

These are strange days. The Republican Party is caught in the past, repeating slogans and advocating policies which are irrelevant to the current turmoil.

I’ve never seen a party so out of touch. It’s worse than ‘out of touch.’ It’s people like Gov Jindal staring into the television camera and saying ‘the strength of the American people is not its government,’ even as Jinday serves as a governor, and is positioning himself to be a spokeman for his party, and perhaps the party’s candidate for the presidency of “We the People.” It’s Gov Palin stepping off her plane in Alaska, and declaring to the crowd that ‘government is the problem,’ even as free market hawk & former head of Goldman Sachs, Secretary of the Treasury Paulsen, declares the immediate need for all of the government’s liquid cash on hand, $700 billion, in order to prevent an economic armageddon.

Posted by: phx8 at March 7, 2009 7:51 PM
Comment #277058

Lost in Space, and Rush is the robot, swinging his arms and crying, “I will save you, Will Robinson!”

Posted by: Marysdude at March 7, 2009 8:33 PM
Comment #277064

Political debates like this are interesting and fun. I would like to invite you to take your debates to Blurbtree.com. It’s a cool new site where you can send your opinions/writing to people of your choice and allow them to add to or just respond to what you wrote.

Posted by: James Briggs at March 7, 2009 11:06 PM
Comment #277071

Eric-
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with dissent. What I’m talking about is not diminishing the value of dissent, but defining it.

In my opinion, the strength and the righteousness of dissent depends on the quality of the inference behind it.

Neither bears on the right to speak out, but each bears on the idea of what comes next, if the dissent is successful. In essence, my question to the Republicans is, if you succeeded in getting policy turned in your direction, would the results be any different, any better than what we’ve already seen out of the party?

To me, simple expressions of beliefs are rather worthless when it comes to politics, because politics is both an applied and a social exercise. It means nothing if you can’t convince people of things in the real world, or clear the way for necessary initiatives.

But it’s worse than nothing if you’re doing your best to be rhetorically persuasive, yet are failing to be fully honest or fully responsible with people about your policies.

Worse yet is when you have that strength, but use it in the service of policy with a terrible track record for political reasons. This whole starve the beast idea, and the deficit spending it allowed are an example.

So, what I’m saying is, we have to look at the different points of view in a way that looks beyond rhetorical technique, towards practical policy discussion, because these partisan sets of competeing political correctnesses is one of those clumsy orthodoxies that Emerson was talking about when he lamented “a foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of small minds.”

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 8, 2009 12:22 AM
Comment #277072

Or to clarify: I believe any side in a political argument is capable of being wrong, or bringing about unforeseen results from even policy they get right. Political correctness, as I’ve defined in the article, often becomes the reason for overlooking the discrepancies, failures and other differences between what was intended and what results of a policy.

That, in turn, can be a problem for everyone.

Priniciples and philosophies are alright, but they must be employed in concert with a strong sense of trying to get both one’s ideas and one’s actions right.

The more we emphasize politics and philosophy over all else, the more we fall prey to the kind of unnecessary crises and problems we see right now. I didn’t fight Bush all that time just so I could see the Democrats adopt his same fatalistic attitude towards screw-ups in government. I want a government that works.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 8, 2009 12:41 AM
Comment #277075

I do not know who at this point is deseminating the Rep talking points but someone is. The rightwing pundits are still reading off the same script. There recent playbook is an amazing attempt to blameshift the troubles with the economy to Obama. What,he’s been in office two months already and so he should have been able to fix 8 years of mis-management by now.
Bi-partisanship is a good thing but impossible when one side insist on acting irresponsibly and dangeriously. So be it. Until the know nothing faction of the Rep party are driven from power the rest of us have little choice but to push them aside and get on with the recovery. Its time for the vaunted audacity of BHO to come forward.Olypia Snow cannot be allowed run the government and Limbaugh has done more damage to the country than Jane Fonda ever did.

Posted by: bills at March 8, 2009 5:18 AM
Comment #277086

bills-
The Right Wing Media machine has several sites and services that do the job of distributing talking points to people. It’s not some odd coincidence that a whole bunch of Republican and Conservative columnists suddenly get on the same bandwagon. It’s planned public relations, and they’ve been good at it.

We’ve beaten them at this point because we’ve got better, and because we’re more ideologically agile than them. They’re on foot, we’re on horseback.

They will tire of this at some point, and of each other. What we don’t need to do is become as inflexible as they are. The Republicans road high on their partisanship, but by defining nearly every political and policy action through it, they set the stage for their own stagnation, ruin and decline.

They became unaccountable because accountability could be exploited by our side, much the way that they’re exploiting Obama’s accountability now. But becoming like that lead to them doubling down on their errors and arrogantly refusing to moderate or correct their behavior for the sake of the public’s regard.

They became belligerent because belligerence could back down the polite and well mannered opponents inside and outside of their party, and give others the vicarious thrill of siding with the strong. But that belligerence alienated them from anybody who wasn’t a supporter, and stuck a stick in the spokes of their ability to persuade them that they were right.

The horizon became the defining line for them, as they promised that if people did things their way, some time in the future things would go as they promised. This was useful to them because they had to dismantle a system people were used to, a system which supported their rights. Only by reassuring the country that some day good things would come of Republican rule, could they get people to tolerate the changes they were making. This helped bring the Republican’s dominance to an end though, as the Republicans blindly accepted one failure after another with the sentiment that people should sacrifice today for the new tomorrow, even while people grew considerably less trusting that things would go as they say.

These are the failures we must avoid, and the reasons why: becoming unaccountable to avoid political shortfalls, because that will only lead us to become blind to them, and to our responsiblities; becoming belligerent, because belligerence alienates, and justifies obnoxious behavior that makes our message harder to get out; becoming too focused on the distant effects of our policy, because then we lack all incentive to make people’s live better in the here and now, as all government should strive to do.

(which is not to say we should get obsessed with the near term; rather, we ignore the here and now at our own peril.)

The Republicans want to put their party and their arguments above reproach. Instead, their words and actions have put them below contempt for many. Their fierce dedication to making a war on rival political factions and parties have left them surrounded by enemies, with no hope but to fight even as their leaders guide them into increasingly stupid strategies. Let’s not put ourselves into the same position.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 8, 2009 10:10 AM
Comment #277100

You have a salient point, Stephen. I find myself in disagreement with everything Republican or conservative, just because I’ve been so hurt and angry with them for so long. 2009 minus 1982 equals 27 long years of cringing in shame or contempt or fear, and it will be hard to break out of that mode. But it must be done…bile hurts everybody…Republicans used to be people too…but, perhaps I’ll wait for just a little while, before I begin to listen again…

Posted by: Marysdude at March 8, 2009 3:39 PM
Comment #277110

Marysdude-
The Republicans problem here is that all their political eggs are in one basket.

That basket is hanging on a branch, which is bendin inexorably towards the raging rapids below them. By killing the representation of moderates in their party, they forced themselves into a diminishing returns strategy of every greater fringe politics.

I think we all have to take a step back from this collosally moronic political argument, this culture war, because it’s gravitationally pulling not only their approaches but ours around it. The Debates are being defined by stupid s***, or by stuff like earmarks and concerns about pork, which are secondary to our economic situation. Worse, you have people like Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama suggesting that we can just let a bank fail and that will be for the best. Does this man have such a short memory that he doesn’t recall what happened when Lehman Brothers went under?

If a Republican comes to us and talks turkey on practical policy instead of employing this dumbass kind of politicized wishful thinking, then I think we should talk right back. Those people will be helpful to us, the people who want to get the job done, and can get the job done. As for all the rest, I could care less. But if we’re going to put up a fight with them, we can’t rely on ideological arguments. We must make our point practical and salient to the issue.

Like that point I made: we already tried letting a relatively medium sized bank fail. Result? That was when stocks fell off the cliff. We need to do what we have to do to keep the financial system alive, and that includes nationalizing banks so that the companies can be rehabilitated and dropped back into private hands.

The Republicans must not be allowed to endlessly campaign for second chances on approaches that were mistakes the first time. They must be confronted, where appropriate, with evidence that their approaches have been tried before, and failed. They have to be held accountable. And meanwhile, we have to run this system right, no matter whose advice we listen to.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at March 8, 2009 6:26 PM
Comment #277278

Yeah.

It took twenty-seven years of deregulation, free market and tax cutting attempts to dig the hole this deep, and their answer to filling in the hole? Deregulate, allow the market more freedom, and cut more taxes…wow! Just how much flagellation do you think this nation can withstand?

Posted by: Marysdude at March 10, 2009 9:19 AM
Comment #277600

marysdude:

So your contention is that we were better off in 1981 than we we are today?

Really?

Posted by: Craig Holmes at March 13, 2009 6:44 PM
Comment #277628

Craig,

Yes…in 1981 there was a future to look forward to. It did not happen because the leadership of the day sold our future to a two trillion dollar national debt, but in 1981 there was still a future to look forward to…comparatively speaking, 1981 was a pimple. This one has tentacles that haven’t even been exposed yet. This one is not a recession, it is the beginning of a depression, and is going to be world wide if brakes are not applied, and GLB sawed the brake lines in half.

Posted by: Marysdude at March 14, 2009 6:06 AM
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