Tuesday, November 13, 2012

How The GOP Could Win My Vote

After the election, one of the popular topics is what the GOP needs to do to gain more voters. Within the Republican party, here's some of the opinions from George Will, Charles Krauthammer, and David Frum. Probably the most common idea is a more open immigration policy to win more of the Hispanic vote (even Hannity has said he's now "evolving" on that issue).

Our political parties are always changing in some ways. The one-dimensional scale of "left vs. right" is a huge over-simplification of reality, so there are plenty of options for policy changes without switching sides on that spectrum. So, as a current Democratic voter, here are policies the GOP could adopt that can remain consistent with conservative philosophy and probably win my vote:

1. Market monetarism. In my mind, the weak economy is clearly a case of low demand, and the fact that inflation remained low after our monetary and fiscal stimulus should count as proof of that. Unfortunately, most Republicans don't seem to agree that's the problem. Democrats do, and they mostly support Keynesian fiscal policies as the cure. But market monetarism is another potential cure for the same problem. It seems to be gaining a lot of support lately among economists and wonks, but not really any politicians yet. I don't know if market monetarist policies will work, but I'd be willing to vote for finding out.

2. Carbon taxes. Climate change is another area where I wish our political parties could agree on the same problem and move on to arguing solutions. Climatologists virtually all agree that global warming is real and that humans are involved. The conservative approach to this problem, which I think would be best, is carbon taxes. Basically, come to some agreement on the long-term costs to the environment from burning fossil fuels, and add a consumption tax of that amount to them. Then the free market would have the right financial incentives to pursue a path toward cleaner and more efficient energy with the right balance. To stay true to conservative philosophy, the revenue gained from that tax could all be used to reduce our taxes on income. And with a broad approach like this, we could also end all the targeted government regulations in this area like energy requirements for cars or light bulbs.

3. Consumption taxes. Conservative states generally prefer consumption taxes over income taxes. And most economists agree that is more economically efficient. So it doesn't seem like much of a stretch for Republicans to support a national VAT of some level, and they could use all the revenue to lower taxes on income (though it wouldn't hurt to use some of it for deficit reduction either). On this and the above issue though, I would want something to be done to avoid it becoming too regressive though.

4. Build on, rather than end, Obamacare. Originally, conservatives fought against Medicare, but eventually gave up. Similarly, I want Republicans to give up repealing Obamacare and instead move forward and improve it. If the private insurance exchanges+mandates+subsidies end up working well (which it already does in Switzerland, Massachusetts, etc.), then we can end the employer tax incentives for providing insurance to workers and use that for individuals themselves. Republicans don't want obstacles for starting or growing a business; and that's what our current system is. Other conservative ideas I may be able to support would be reducing the requirements of what insurance must cover and making the insurance exchanges an alternative option for Medicare.

5. Open borders. The essence of a free market is that if a person wants to hire another person for a job, at a wage agreed to by both sides, to provide something that customers want to pay for, they can do so. Strict immigration laws are nothing more than "big government" intruding in the free market with arbitrary rules. It's not at all consistent with conservative economic values.

6. Marriage equality. The fact that prohibiting gay marriage creates real harm on real people should be enough to support marriage equality. But if not... homosexuality will exist whether or not gay marriage is legal. So from a socially conservative viewpoint, even if you personally disapprove of homosexuality, you can support legal gay marriage as an institutional encouragement of monogamy over promiscuity. Besides, this is coming anyway, and the GOP will have to join the future on this issue at some point. Might as well do it now. Another alternative is to just get the government out of marriage entirely and only recognize "civil unions" as a legal issue, regardless of whether the couple is gay or straight.

7. Marijuana legalization. Nobody seriously thinks the Prohibition was good policy. It attacked people's freedoms, made criminals out of ordinary people, and empowered criminal organizations. How is our war on drugs any different? This is another change that seems to be coming sooner than we previously would have guessed. And Obama is still against it. So this is an opportunity for the GOP to lead on an issue that will embarrass us in the future when we look back on it. Plus, it's consistent with the conservative philosophy of getting the government out of people's lives. And let's face it; you'll win a lot of the youth vote. This doesn't have to mean encouragement of drug use; we could put a hefty tax on it, and use the revenue to reduce taxes on work.

I could go on with things like patent reform, filibuster reform, chilling out on military spending, etc.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Jetsons and Politics

Possibly the biggest fundamental issue dividing people politically is the question of if and how much the government should redistribute the wealth that a free market creates/allocates. On one side, you hear many people claim that redistribution is just fundamentally wrong, and a pure free market will always work best overall. On the other side, you hear many people claim that there's a fundamental right to things like health insurance, retirement, a "living wage", etc. Neither side makes sense to me, and thinking about the world of the Jetsons (and its opposite) is a good way to explain why.

First, what are the pros and cons of different sides of the redistribution scale, regardless of where you think the optimal point is?

I think most people will agree on 2 main problems with doing too much redistribution.  There's the moral problem where it just feels wrong to take too much money from those who have made it. And there's the economic problem, where it makes everyone poorer by reducing incentives to work and leaving less money for long-term investments in technology and such.

Similarly, there's 2 main reasons why people get uncomfortable with too little redistribution. Morally, we want to minimize human suffering, and some amount of redistribution does that. And economically, social safety nets can encourage risk-taking, and other services such as public education enables the potential of those who wouldn't be able to afford to do so otherwise.

Now imagine a future where technology has advanced to the point where we live like the Jetsons. Robots do everything for us that we could ever need or want. There would be no jobs other than making and maintaining those robots, and we'd only need maybe 1% of the population to do that. This would be a really weird society to be a hard-core conservative. With no redistribution, everyone would be at the mercy of the all-powerful 1% that makes/maintains the robots. It's pretty clear that in a situation like that, we might as well be mostly socialist and let everyone enjoy the things that we can easily afford to universally provide.

On the other hand, if you go far back in time, or if we have some sort of apocalyptic event that takes away all our technology, it'd be very different. If we have no real health care, what does it mean to say that health insurance is a human right? If we have hardly any technology, such that we all have to work extremely hard and struggle just to survive, it's not possible to ensure food/shelter/water for those who get too sick/disabled/old to work. And it wouldn't make sense to have unemployment insurance; you can easily find a job because there's so much that needs to be done. In that kind of society, it wouldn't make sense to be a liberal. For society to continue, we would need those who are able to produce the most to flourish. And any programs to take from the better-off to help the worse-off would be taking away money that may be spent on the technological progress that would end up benefiting everyone in the future.

Neither of those two extremes may ever happen to us. But thinking about the extremes makes it clear that there's not one right answer on redistribution that can apply to all possible scenarios. No matter where you are on the political spectrum, it makes sense for government redistribution to grow as (if?) our technology and economy grows.