Bad Rep Economic Policy and Media Ignorance

Paul RosenbergPaul Rosenberg wrote a great article over at Salon last week, Scott Walker, Forever Tarnished: Republican Governors Have Tanked the GOP Brand. It is about how the 2010 election allowed a bunch of true-believer conservatives to get hold of a number of states, causing them to put into practice the kind of economic policy that they are always claiming will create jobs and grow the economy. And the result has been just what readers of this site would expect: disaster. Instead of improving their economies, they’ve harmed them. And in exchange, they have slashed government services and still managed to destroy their budgets.

What Rosenberg focuses on is the fact that all these decades right wing think tanks have developed policy ideas. But these ideas have not been based on good economics, but rather ideology. So rather than the states being those fabled “laboratories of democracy,” they have been the opposite: they’ve all done the same things. And they’ve all managed to get the same bad results. Of course, I wouldn’t get too excited about that. The worst case is Kansas, were Sam Brownback was just re-elected. Rather than admitting that his policies have failed, he just keeps claiming that his policies will take time to work. There is no teaching an ideologue. The question is where it is possible to teach the American media.

One of the things that has traditionally been nice about state level politics is that it was relatively pragmatic because it had to be. Unlike the federal government, state governments actually do have to balance their budgets. So normally, we wouldn’t expect to see states pass up free money like they get with the Medicaid expansion. But refuse many of them did. But it is hard to evaluate that behavior. Sure: it is needlessly cruel and fiscally stupid. But these Republicans never said they were doing it because it made humanitarian and economic sense. When it comes to the tax cuts, the services cuts, the infrastructure cuts — these were all done because it was going to make their economies boom. And just the opposite has happened.

The main idea that is behind all of this slash and burn economics is that tax cuts will stimulate the economy so much that the government will actually bring in more revenue. This is supply side economics. And since it was first tried in the early 1980s, it has literally never worked. Not once! Yet this is still the guiding light of Republican economic policy. When the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business polled prominent (mostly conservative) economists, it “couldn’t find a single economist who believed that cutting taxes today will lead to higher government revenue — even if we lower only the top tax rate.” But that’s why we have Arthur Laffer around: an official “economist” that Republicans can hire to tell them that they can cut taxes and everything will be great.

Rosenberg put it well:

The Booth expert polling results aren’t monolithic, nor are they necessarily infallible — orthodox economists were blindsided by the financial collapse in 2008, after all. But the degree to which key articles of GOP economic faith clash with overwhelming expert judgment is staggering — and there’s nary a hint of it in most of the media. It’s a disconnect reminiscent of global warming, but much less widely recognized.

Indeed, pundits as a class have internalized the notion of the GOP as the “daddy party,” the one that does best at all manner of male-stereotyped roles: fighting wars, running the economy, understanding how things work. The Democrats are supposedly the “mommy party,” the one that takes care of you when you hurt.

Rosenberg went on to discuss two different studies that showed that Republican economic policy in the states actually harm their economies. But the truth is, even if they worked, it would only be by helping a given state at the expense of other states. When Art Laffer was pushing his plan to the Kansas legislature, he said there was a war among states over tax policy. The idea was to lower taxes so that companies would move to the low tax state. This is, obviously, a race to the bottom — which states stupidly participate in all the time. But even on this level, the Republicans can’t seem to make their economic policy work.

The question remains whether the mainstream media will wake up and start covering this. Rosenberg seems at least a bit optimistic. I’m not. We didn’t need this new crop of Republicans loons to prove that conservative economic policy doesn’t work as advertised. The truth is that the media really do see the Republicans as the “daddy party.” And it is just easier to continue to push the same old narrative. (Look at the issue of fighting wars: can any reasonable person really think Republicans are good at that anymore?) But if there is a chance to get the truth out, it will be through the people. That’s pretty sad: we need the people to educate the journalists. But luckily, with the internet, we are in a much better position to do that now than we were before.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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