June 15, 2012 · 0 Comments
By Marie Burns:
In his New York Times column today, David Brooks gives Democrats a remedial tutorial on “what Republicans think”:
In America as in Europe, Republicans argue, the welfare state is failing to provide either security or dynamism. The safety net is so expensive it won’t be there for future generations. Meanwhile, the current model shifts resources away from the innovative sectors of the economy and into the bloated state-supported ones, like health care and education. Successive presidents have layered on regulations and loopholes, creating a form of state capitalism in which big businesses thrive because they have political connections and small businesses struggle.
The welfare model favors security over risk, comfort over effort, stability over innovation. Money that could go to schools and innovation must now go to pensions and health care. This model, which once offered insurance from the disasters inherent in capitalism, has now become a giant machine for redistributing money from the future to the elderly.
This is the source of Republican extremism: the conviction that the governing model is obsolete. It needs replacing.
While Brooks does not specifically endorse Republithink, the philosophy and language he ascribes to Republicans are the same political philosophy and language he has used to describe his own views in other columns; for instance, here, here and here.
One teeny problem with “what Republicans think” is that much of their “thinking” runs counter to empirical evidence – and even to their own policies, in some cases. “Republican thinking,” as Brooks describes it, is based on myths and prejudices. Brooks starts with the core Republican premise that the European welfare state is failing (does not provide “security”) and is an unsustainable (“so expensive”) drag (lacks “dynamism”) on European economies. That is not true. As Paul Krugman wrote in a February 2012 New York Times column,
Look at the 15 European nations currently using the euro (leaving Malta and Cyprus aside), and rank them by the percentage of G.D.P. they spent on social programs before the crisis. Do the troubled GIPSI nations (Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy) stand out for having unusually large welfare states? No, they don’t; only Italy was in the top five, and even so its welfare state was smaller than Germany’s…. Sweden, which still has a very generous welfare state, is currently a star performer, with economic growth faster than that of any other wealthy nation…. So excessively large welfare states didn’t cause the troubles.
As for the U.S., if our “safety net is so expensive it won’t be there for future generations,” then one obvious solution is to return federal taxes to levels that once sustained that safety net.
“The current model” does not “shift resources … into the bloated state-supported ones, like health care and education.” No matter who runs these systems – private or public entities – they will always be “inefficient”; that is, medical and educational institutions will require a higher worker/user ratio than, say, an auto parts plant. (It is true that Brooks recently endorsed a proposal that would increase healthcare “productivity” – a plan the ACA does not include: when they felt sickly, poor Americans could skip the doctor and go online to get medical diagnoses. Patient, heal thyself!) The healthcare industry cannot be shifted to the private sector, because – with a few exceptions – it is already there. Always has been. However, the public sector – via the Affordable Care Act – will impose some new “efficiencies” (if the ACA survives the Supremes) on private providers in the forms of managed care incentives, standardized records-keeping and other innovations. The one large public healthcare system we have is the Veterans Administration, which according to an extensive study by the independent Rand Corporation, “generally outperforms the private sector in following recommended processes for patient care” and outcomes.
Brooks claims that “presidents have layered on regulations and loopholes” that favor “big businesses” while “small businesses struggle.” Brooks is half right. For instance, President Obama recently promoted and signed a patent law that is a case in point. But of course it is not just presidents who do this; Congress passed the law, and devotes most of its time to catering to special interests, often at the expense of ordinary Americans. Members of both parties are for sale, even though Republicans are traditionally the chief watercarriers for the business lobby. If Republicans are actually complaining about loopholes for big business – as Brooks claims – they are being laughably hypocritical. Republicans wrote the loopholes.
Brooks’ assertion that our “welfare state” redistributes money from the future to the elderly is disingenuous. It is not an either/or choice. The elderly, at least in theory, paid for their safety net benefits during their working years. Properly funded, Medicare and Social Security are not “welfare” programs; they’re insurance policies. If Republicans want to compare the U.S. healthcare system to European systems, as Brooks claims, economist Dean Baker thinks that’s a good idea. After all, “If the U.S. paid the same amount per person for health care as Denmark, Germany, or Sweden we would be looking at massive budget surpluses.” Many social safety net programs are designed to help young people – they “redistribute” money from taxpayers to needy families. Food stamps help kids. So do early prenatal care, childhood education, college loans, etc. Yet these are the programs Brooks and his Republican friends “think” should be cut or eliminated. (See Santorum, Rick, “I don’t want to make blah people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money.”)
Don’t worry, Brooks writes. Republicans know what to do. Their only problem is that Democrats are too dense “to grasp the Republic diagnosis.” According to Brooks, Mitt Romney has not just the diagnosis but the cure: Romney
would structurally reform the health care system, moving toward a more market-based system. He would simplify the tax code. He would reverse 30 years of education policy, decentralizing power and increasing parental choice. The intention is the same, to create a model that will spark an efficiency explosion, laying the groundwork for an economic revival.
Mitt Romney’s plan to “structurally reform the health care system,” a “plan” he laid out earlier this week, is best described as “repeal and reverse.” As Ed Kilgore wrote in the Washington Monthly yesterday,
… it’s not just a matter of Romney denying the wisdom of his own health care plan in Massachusetts (which depended, BTW, on the kind of generous federal Medicaid subsidies his and Ryan’sbudget proposals would make a thing of the distant past) and offering dishonest and threadbare ‘solutions’ to the problem of pre-existing conditions and other shortcomings of the status quo ante. By supporting interstate insurance sales and major reductions in federal Medicaid funding and … the herding of people now covered by employer-based policies into the individual market, Romney would make the coverage and affordability problems far worse than they were in 2010.
Read Kilgore’s whole post to get a picture of just how bad Romney’s “plan” is.
Romney’s plan to “simplify the tax code” is little more than a scam to substantially lower taxes on people like him – the Romneys “would save $3.4 million a year – roughly 85 times the total pre-tax income of the average American citizen” under Romney’s plan – and raise them on some of the rest of us while ballooning the deficit.
Romney’s education plan is to attack public education. Education expert Diane Ravitch writes in the New York Review of Books,
The central themes of the Romney plan are a rehash of Republican education ideas from the past thirty years, namely, subsidizing parents who want to send their child to a private or religious school, encouraging the private sector to operate schools, putting commercial banks in charge of the federal student loan program, holding teachers and schools accountable for students’ test scores, and lowering entrance requirements for new teachers. These policies reflect the experience of his advisers, who include half a dozen senior officials from the Bush administration and several prominent conservative academics….
Ravitch’s article, too, is well worth a read.
I am definitely too dense to grasp the vision in these policies Romney proposes. How they would “spark an efficiency explosion, laying the groundwork for an economic revival,” as Brooks claims, is beyond me. Jonathan Cohn of The New Republic must be a dope, too. He wrote yesterday, “”The difference between Romney’s vision and Obama’s is tens of millions of people losing health insurance; less money for a variety of federal programs that help young people pay for college and enable poor people to get food; fewer dollars for repairing broken down bridges and infrastructure; and much, much bigger tax cuts for wealthy Americans.”
As nearly as I can tell, Romney’s entire plan is Reverse Robin Hood on Speed. Romney would drastically increasing wealth inequality, channeling trillions from the have-nots to the haves. His tax plan does so specifically. His education plan does so surreptitiously, by paying for-profit educational institutions with taxpayer money at the expense of public education. His healthcare “plan” does the same by moving people from group policies to more expensive individual policies, while denying coverage to millions. The insurance companies will profit; insured Americans and those who cannot get coverage will suffer, but healthcare providers will have fewer paying patients and no help from the government in improving efficiency. An economic system such as the one Romney proposes – a system that would impoverish the middle class – is clearly not “groundwork for an economic revival.” It is a prescription for accelerating American decline.
Speaking of decline, David Brooks is looking forward to the downfall of the European Union: “I suspect the likely collapse of the European project will profoundly influence which perception the [United States] buys this November.” Brooks is holding out hope that bad European news will favor Romney. This hope is based not just on Brooksian schadenfreude but also on a string of false premises. The first is that President Obama is a European-style “socialist” bent on imposing a Euro-“welfare state” in the U.S.; then that the European “welfare states” are “unsustainable”; then that European social safety programs are somehow responsible for Europe’s host of economic problems; then that European nations have not imposed austerity programs “which have brought Europe to the edge of catastrophe” (Brooks claims that “The so-called European austerity is partly mythical”); then that Republicans do not advocate policies that are just like those catastrophic European austerity programs. David Brooks’ part in the Republican enterprise is to perpetuate this chain of lies. He has done his job today.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com