Politics and specific policies

by Robert Waldmann

At Frum forum Justin Green extensively quotes Jeb Golonkin on how conservatism could be much better if conservatives made specific policy proposals.  Sad but true, almost all of the proposals that have been signed into law are by Barack Obama.  This is not a rare event.  While many conservatives stick to slogans, some try to come up with constructive alternatives to the stimulus (ARRA) and Obamacare (PPACA).  I don’t remember where to link but the phenomenon of “Obamacare is horrible and we should replace it with Obamacare” is quite common.

Golonkin’s proposals are in bold, and then another of my comments follows. Recall that the PPACA is Obamacare and the ARRA is the stimulus bill.

Golonkin’s problem is that Obama has been there and done that.  Golonkin’s innovative conservative proposals are mostly existing liberal policies.

Golonkin:  Somewhere along the way, we conservatives stopped innovating and stopped explaining, preferring instead to fall back to “small government is better.” Well, maybe it is and maybe it is not. But the notion that government is always useless simply does not ring true in a world where people look to the government to provide Medicare, a national defense, FEMA relief, and public education. This being the case, we would do well to start probing for specific policy solutions that affect people in concrete ways. What is the government doing that is hurting small businesses today? What is the government not doing that it could be that could help small businesses?

It is not now organizing health insurance exchanges to remove big businesses advantage in insuring employees, because big business work forces are automatically large pools of policy holders helping big but not small businesses interacting with health insurers avoid the adverse selection death spiral.  It would also be nice, above and beyond the call of eliminating a market failure, to offer them subsidies.  See ‘healthcare fiasco’.

Golonkin: What about student debt? 

How about ceasing to pay banks huge amounts of money to handle simple paper work and divide the savings between reducing the federal deficit and reducing the amount students have to pay on their debt.  See ‘healthcare fiasco’

Golonkin: Can we use student loan forgiveness as a way to incentivize bright young people to enter particular fields? We need more primary care physicians if we are going to make this healthcare fiasco work. No one wants to be a primary care physician because primary care physicians get paid less than specialists, which makes it harder for them to pay off their medical school debts. But could we change the way the government reimburses primary care? And couldn’t we partially forgive student loans if borrowers agree to enter into primary care in particular markets for a certain number of years?

See ‘healthcare fiasco’ and click http://bit.ly/Y6ObIP (warning a *.doc will download)
So far all of the bright innovating conservative ideas are provisions of the ‘healthcare fiasco’.  Some are not current policy because they are scheduled to start in January 2014, but mr ‘specifics specifics specifics’ didn’t let that little detail prevent him from arguing that a bill which is largely not yet being applied and of which he demonstrates astonishing ignorance is a ‘fiasco’. 

Golonkin:  What about tax policy: why are we not on the cutting edge of hyper-targeted tax cuts that we can show, with numbers, turbocharge the economy? A wish is not a plan.  Wishing that conservatives can show, with numbers, that there are tax cuts that turbocharge the economy doesn’t make it possible.  There are many conservative academic economists who have looked very hard for proof that some sort of tax cuts turbocharge the economy.  They haven’t shown this, because it is not true.  yes many conservatives consider numbers foreign alien and un-American (especially arabic numbers).  However there are also conservatives who love numbers and are statistical and mathematical geniuses.  The reason they haven’t shown with numbers how wonderful tax cuts can be is that it is impossible to show something false with numbers.  The high respect of ‘numbers’ is for their power as tools for convincing people. 

Golonkin doesn’t need to look at any numbers to be sure it is possible to show with numbers that some tax cuts are great.  This is not the way anyone who knows what data are talks about it.  Conservatives, including Golonkin, have the very serious problem of thinking they know the answer before looking at the evidence.
Also I fear that Golonkin believes his hyper targeted tax cut proposal is pro market.  It is, in fact, based on his conviction that policy makers (provided they are conservative) can guess better than the market and wisely subsidize particular activities. The pro market position is that tax rates should not be targeted but rather that the playing field should be level.

Golonkin:  Why are we not demanding that the government rebuild our cratering infrastructure rather than using taxpayer dollars to invest in projects it hopes will succeed (Solyndra)?

Yes how about spending more on infrastructure ?  Nothing like the ARRA but spending on infrastructure.  How did Golonkin manage to avoid the phrase ‘shovel ready’ ?  He is now calling for the ARRA.  Also he doesn’t recognize that hyper targeted tax cuts are using taxpayer dollars to invest in etc.  It doesn’t matter if the money is called a tax cut or a subsidy or even the market value of a CDS (loan guarantee) as in the case of Solyndra.  The policy he advocates and the policy he mocks are implementations of the exact same reasoning.

Golonkin:  Why are we not pushing pay for performance in the healthcare system AND in our education system?

Pay for performance in the healthcare system.  See ‘healthcare fiasco’ and click
pay for performance in education recall the ARRA and google ‘race to the top’

Golonkin: Workfare?
Workfare was introduced under Reagan and tightened later.  This is the system before the welfare reform of 1996.  It was learned that it costs more to give welfare recipients money and make them work than to just give them money so states backslid and it never amounted to much.  It is an experiment that all agree failed.

Golonkin: Some of these ideas are useless, some of them might have legs, but the point is: specifics, specifics, specifics.

So we see what happens when a conservative tries to think of constructive policy proposals.  There is the wish that conservative claims be ‘shown with numbers’ plus Obama policy after Obama policy after Obama policy. 

I think Golonkin should spend more time and effort on understanding the enemy. He might discover that the enemy is not the enemy but rather what he dreams conservatism might one day become.

The shocking thing is that this pathetic display of ignorance is described as “particularly fine work” by non movement conservative Mark Adomanis in Forbes in a post entitled “Epistemic Closure in Action …”
Golonkin is not the example of epistemic closure.  He is considered a “particularly fine” example of how some conservatives are working to overcome epistemic closure.  The detail that the conservative in question has new conservatives ideas which are almost all either in the PPACA or the ARRA and that he doesn’t know this, does not make the Galonkin essay an example of epistemic closure. 
Rather it is an example of how some conservatives are trying to overcome it and understand liberals before denouncing us. 

I am tempted to type “pathetic” but I don’t pity them, I fear them. They are very numerous and their blind ideological arrogance makes them dangerous.

Note, the two conservatives in question are Green and Golonkin.

cross posted with Robert’s Stochastic thoughts