Monday, May 29, 2017

Come Back, GOP

Dave Roberts at Vox used to tweet a lot (@drvox), as you may know from some of my monthly Twitter round-ups over the years. But then he stopped tweeting last summer or so after one of those things that happens on Twitter where one person says something unthinking and it devolves from there. He returned after a few months, but only to tweet links to his Vox posts.

In the last month, he seems to be coming back just a bit more, posting an occasional observation that’s not directly related to his work at Vox. Yesterday he posted a tweet storm for the first time.

He was responding to a commentary by Will Wilkinson in the New York Times that calls on Trump to disentangle deregulatory policy from economic policy. Basically, Wilkinson was saying deregulation = good, while supply-side economics = bad, and that Republicans should work for the former and jettison the latter.

Roberts took it in a different, more interesting direction:

[Wilkinson] asks us to envision a GOP that has accepted the fact that modern, prosperous democratic governments are always and inevitably "big." And rather than waging a futile war to reduce taxes and spending -- to reduce government as a percent of the economy -- it works to reduce regulations to increase economic dynamism. It learns to live with a robust social safety net, working to keep such payments simple and transparent.

This would be a welcome turn from the desiccated Randian fantasies that still grip Paul Ryan and most GOP electeds.

It would be welcome in two ways. First, the economy would *work better* with a robust safety net. It would reduce anxiety, fear of change. But the other benefit, which is what the piece has me thinking about, is that it would make for *better arguments*.

The GOP argues for robust and universal but *simple* welfare transfers and against most other economic-meddling regs. Democrats argue in favor of more fine-grained, tech- or demographic-specific welfare programs and regulationss. Some cool features of such an argument: a) it would be responsive to actual conditions in the world, actual facts, and b) I wouldn't always know in advance where I'd land!

Admittedly, "doesn't bore Dave" is not a particularly high-ranking desideratum for political conflicts. But I have thought for years that one of the lesser-remarked ill effects of the GOP going crazy is that it has (largely) denied the Democrats skilled interlocutors.

For the most part, realistic, grounded arguments about, e.g., economic policy are happening *within the left*. The right opted out. Same with climate change. Climate policy discussions have been almost entirely intra-left.

"GOVERNMENT BAD" and "CLIMATE CHANGE IS A HOAX" are, whatever else you can say about them, not intellectually *interesting*. There's no point arguing with them, especially since they are inevitably delivered by glassy eyed zealots 0% open to changing their minds.

So, to finally get to my point: this has made the left *lazy*. Pretty much anything counts as a good argument against a troglodyte. From my vantage point, I see this most clearly in climate change. There are a lot of very interesting (and not obviously ideological) arguments to be had on climate policy. For instance, Niskanen Center [where Will Wilkinson is housed] proposes a simple, high and rising carbon tax in exchange for dumping most other carbon regulations. Insofar as that argument is made in good faith, by people who accept climate risk it is worth grappling with. (And I do believe Niskanen is acting in good faith, though it is an extreme outlier on the right.)

In other words, if we were having policy debates among people who accepted the facts of the problem, we'd be having *better debates*. That would be better for the world, but specifically, it would be better *for the left*, which badly needs a decent sparring partner.

Same on economic policy, education, criminal justice, name it. Arguing over whether to accept modernity (spoiler: that ship has sailed) is dumb. It makes everybody involved dumber. We need to argue over how to maximize benefits and minimize the dislocations of modernity.

But that requires two parties that accept it. As long as one clings to medieval morality and premodern economics the other will not have the interlocutor it needs to test, defend, and hone its ideas. Its myths and contradictions go unchallenged.

So yes, GOP, please join modernity. The left isn't doesn't want to take all your guns, doesn't want people marrying animals, doesn't run child sex rings out of pizza places ... but it does believe some stupid shit and push some bad arguments!

What did you expect? You drifted off into Alpha Centauri and the left was left behind to figure things out on its own. Rejoin us! It will not only improve policy outcomes and our international reputation ... but it will make U.S. political disputes way less f'ing boring.
I'm glad Dave Roberts is back in my Twitter feed and I look forward to more of his.

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