Friday, October 1, 2010

Opportunity Knocks?

Matt Yglesias has a very good item about the stimulus today, but I don't want anyone to miss his final point:
What we need for the future—badly—is better automatic stabilizers to prevent the kind of state/local budget crises that have provided so much economic undertow throughout this recession.
It strikes me that this is the kind of issue that a couple of United States Senators could easily get a whole lot of credit for.  It's a very boring topic, which means that taking it on would produce "Serious Legislator" points.  As far as I can tell, it's not an inherently ideological issue, which has two advantages: something could actually get done in the next two years, and also whoever takes it on will get lots of "Bipartisan" love from those who like that sort of thing.  And for prospective presidential candidates, there's always the chance to work with Governors of good fundraising states such as California and New York, not to mention the possibility of holding field hearings in Iowa and New Hampshire.  Against that is that it's a deeply dull subject...well, you can find some interesting people who were laid off by the states, or whose taxes were raised, but there's no way of getting around the fact that it's about state budgets. 

Oh, and it's also both very important and, it seems to me, fairly easily solvable.  Hey, Senators -- anyone ready to step up to the plate on this?


  1. It's not ideological?
    Conservatives are much more concerned with balanced budgets, half-serious (indicating their stupidity) and half-disingenuous (as a way to get to lower spending and/or taxation levels). The first reason isn't ideological, but the second is, even if indirectly.

    Or am I missing something?

  2. Plus, this indirectly relates to helping poor people, which in today's GOP definitely counts as ideological.

  3. Jon Berstein, are you trolling for comments? I have no idea how anybody could pay attention to congress for the past 2 years and come to the conclusion that "[automatic stabilizers] are not an inherently ideological issue"

    automatic stabilizers = automatic spending = socialism
    giving federal money to a state = socialist bailout
    state government employees = socialists

    As we all know the reason why we're in a recession is because gov't is too big. The only solution is to cut taxes and destroy public sector unions.

  4. C'mon, now, the Republicans' jihad against...well, everything of the last two years is a political strategy, not an ideological stance. They've admitted as much, too. In general, and especially in times when they're in charge, they have no problem spending money, or bailing people out, or expanding the size of government. In 2-4 years, when the political calculus is different, it'd be very easy to get a Republican or two on board.

    Of course, they'd have to set themselves on fire to get anyone to pay attention to this issue, but still...

  5. Such an initiative doesn't supply the needed morality-play element. Automatic stabilizers wouldn't punish the undeserving, and provide the rest of us with the edifying spectacle.

    The GOP has figured out that the average voter will, when given a choice between governance and drama, will choose drama every time. Which they then provide. They're now pretty much just in the entertainment business.

    Once the productions are mounted, and put into nationwide distribution, they then go back to servicing their actual constituents, the people who purchased them with their campaign contributions.

  6. What Colby said. There's a difference between a policy position driven by partisanship, one driven by constituency requests, and one driven by ideology -- and all I'm saying is that I don't see any ideological objection for most Republicans here.

    Now, Republicans may express their partisan positions as if they were ideological, but that's not the same thing.

  7. I live in CA, which has had a terrible deficit for years, and most republicans here (including Arnold) use it as an excuse to pitch privatizing various services and weakening public sector unions. You don't hear GOP candidates campaigning on asking the fed govt for automatic stabilizers, instead they say we've got to cut taxes, "tighten our belts", "secure our border" and "eliminate crippling regulations" (ie AB 32, CA's clean energy bill).

    Arnold is the (occaisional) exception, having lobbied for stimulus funds, and he's pretty widely unpopular.

  8. Davis, isn't that just a matter of political salesmanship, though? If Karl Rove were pushing for automatic stabilizers, he could figure out a way to make them a daraamatic life-and-death struggle against Al Queda and the Queer mafia in about 20 minutes.

  9. Not if all that sweet, sweet federal money was going to shiftless colored people, he couldn't.

    There are some fundamental truths that can't be magicked away by the Roves of the world. One of them is stabilizers will disproportionately aid people Republicans can't stand.

  10. Hmmm...I agree that there are severe limits to what you can do with spin (after all, actual Karl Rove wasn't able to sell Katrina, or Social Security, or Harriet Myers). On the other hand, that federal money would also be preventing tax increases at the state level. In reality, if economists for both parties agree that fiscal tightening at the state level is bad policy during a recession, then there's no real reason IMO why both parties wouldn't go for something automatic to prevent it in future recession (which of course could hit with either party in the WH).

  11. I am a little late to the party here, but I find this discussion a bit bewildering. The only economic ideology that Republicans have ever articulated (in the last 50 years at least) is a belief in the free enterprise system. Their ideological position is an explicit rejection of Keynesian economics. I am not denying that they violate their ideological position for short-term political gain (see Medicare, part D), but they do in fact have an ideological bent against automatic stabilizers. Just ask the Club for Growth. They have spent the last few years getting rid of Republican Senators who didn't display adequate fealty to the Club's notion of free enterprise.

    I think it is a mistake to say the economists of both parties support the notion of automatic stabilizers. There are still Keynesian economists in the Republican party, but the economists who speak for the ideological wing of the party are most definitely not Keynesians.


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