Wednesday, June 17, 2009

My Idea

There are two things that Republicans should stand for: Empowerment and Reciprocity.  By Empowerment I mean that benefits should go directly to the people. Obama's plans actually offer a great opportunity to do that.  The stocks that the US government has in GM could easily be distributed directly to households. The same holds true for his carbon permits.  The idea has a long conservative pedigree in education and welfare spending in general under the name of vouchers and the negative income tax.  Jack Kemp extended the idea to low income housing. Instead of the government running housing projects give the people in the housing rent vouchers.

It has the advantage of being understandable and of being something that the opposition can do. Obama wants to buy GM, fine, just offer an amendment to say that the stocks are distributed directly to the people.  He wants to have  a carbon tax?  Fine, we don't agree, but if we have to have it lets at least give the benefits to the people by distributing the rights to pollute directly to them.  

But like any worthwhile political strategy, it also splits the opposition.  The Democratic party is a coalition between the supposed beneficiaries of their policies and the government/NGO complex employees that supply those benefits.  The former often get the short end of the stick.  By "empowerment" strategies we cut out the middleman giving the actual objects of the policy more benefits and cut the Democrats off from an important part of their coalition. In doing so we expose the real hypocrisy at the heart of Obamanomics, that it is really an empowerment scheme for the educated elite that are morally repelled by marketplace occupations.

By reciprocity I mean that the laws that government people should be applied to their rulers. The primary application of this principle is in the setting of benefits and options.  The most obvious example is in the health care debate. Just require that anything the Senate and the public employee unions get should be available to the public.  This is a principle that people understand and support. It also has the potential of exposing a great deal of hypocrisy.  Why do Obama's kids get to go to the good school? How many of the politicians that have just taken over GM and are trying to force us to buy their cars drive them themselves?  

Finally, it is a very useful concept in foreign relations.  For instance, much of what divides elite and mass opinion is the conviction that our enemies should get the benefits of our restraint without having a corresponding obligation reciprocate. 

A great disadvantage of importing this principle into our discourse about foreign relations is the danger that it will come to be applied to trade.  Demanding reciprocity in trade is a terrible idea.  This is one case of elite/mass divide where the elites are right and the mass is wrong.  Unfortunately we free traders have fallen into the bad habit of trying to defend free trade on the grounds that our restrictions would lead to a trade war.  This is not an especially good reason to be a free trader.  The real reason to favor free trade is that trade restrictions hurt the party imposing the restrictions.  The net benefits of trade restrictions are far below their costs.  Perhaps the best that can be said for this aspect of reciprocity as a principle in politics is that it might force free traders to make their real case. 

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