I can see why Republicans increasingly don’t see enfant terrible Josh Barro as a conservative. He will go on! Yesterday at Business Insider, he wrote, There Is Still No Conservative, Pro-Middle Class Agenda. It is primarily an attack on Utah Senator Mike Lee, but Barro is quite clear that he means it to be a more broad attack on the Republican party and even the conservative movement itself. He wrote, “But as is typical for Republicans, the key focus of legislation Lee supports isn’t reform—it’s cutting spending on entitlements in order to make space in the budget for tax cuts.” Although I completely agree, I know the counter argument, “But those tax cuts will spur the economy and all the poor will have good paying jobs!” There seems to be no amount of evidence and argument that can convince conservatives that this isn’t so.
This all raises a question in my mind. It is a personal question ever since Barro called me dumb for writing that he is a conservative apologist. The question is this: why is Barro a conservative? Liberals and Democrats want efficient infrastructure spending. It was the Democratic Party that changed “welfare as we know it.” And it was Democrats who enacted a “free market” reform of healthcare. Why is it that Barro wants to reform the Republican Party when it looks to me like what he really thinks it ought to become is the modern Democratic Party? (I’m all for that, by the way; the problem with the Republican Party is that the Democratic Party has moved much too far to the right.)
For the record, I don’t believe that Barro understood my article because he completely mischaracterized it. I wasn’t saying that he was wrong for wanting infrastructure projects to be efficient. I said he was being a Republican apologist for using reasonable arguments to justify others’ ideological decisions. I did and still do expect more from Barro, who I may disagree with but still think is brilliant.
Last week, Dean Baker wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which he discussed Elizabeth Warren’s proposal for making student loans more affordable. He said at first he didn’t like the plan because it wasn’t transparent and would certainly lead to the money being used in unintended ways like rich kids taking out loans to invest in the stock market. But then he realized something important, “Somehow sound economics are only important in discussions of policies that are intended to help the poor or middle class.”
Think about this with regards to infrastructure projects. Any actual project is going to have waste or at least things that some people will call waste. As a commentator, one can either argue for the project or against the project. But the argument cannot be simply that there is a lot of waste. Is the waste a reasonable trade off for the good? What’s more, when someone like Josh Barro argues that a transit project is too expensive or isn’t needed quite yet, he isn’t making the case for a more efficient or later project. As a practical matter, his arguments will be used to kill such projects.
Since Barro’s thinking is far more in line with the Democratic Party than the Republican Party, I don’t see why he doesn’t come on over. And I’m not sure that even he knows. One thing he doesn’t seem to appreciate is the great favor that much of his writing does for those pushing policies he disagrees with.