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 Post subject: Role of government
PostPosted: Thu January 17, 2013 4:59 pm 
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Nice piece in the times

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/20 ... ralism/?hp

Now What, Liberalism?
By THOMAS B. EDSALL


The argument of the political commentator Walter Russell Mead that the United States has reached an end-stage death match between liberal constituent groups has received widespread attention, especially in the conservative blogosphere.

Mead, who teaches at Bard College, contends that

The core institutions, ideas and expectations that shaped American life for the sixty years after the New Deal don’t work anymore. The gaps between the social system we inhabit and the one we now need are becoming so wide that we can no longer paper over them.

In many respects, liberalism is a fat target. Dozens of city and state public employee pension plans are on the verge of bankruptcy – or are actually bankrupt – from Rhode Island to California; in 2010, a survey of 126 state and local plans showed assets of $2.7 trillion and liabilities of $3.5 trillion, an $800 billion shortfall. The national debt exceeds $16 trillion.

Mead labels the “institutions, ideas and expectations” of contemporary liberalism the “blue model”:

In the old system, most blue-collar and white-collar workers held stable, lifetime jobs with defined benefit pensions, and a career civil service administered a growing state as living standards for all social classes steadily rose. Gaps between the classes remained fairly consistent in an industrial economy characterized by strong unions in stable, government-brokered arrangements with large corporations—what Galbraith and others referred to as the Iron Triangle. High school graduates were pretty much guaranteed lifetime employment in a job that provided a comfortable lower middle-class lifestyle; college graduates could expect a better paid and equally secure future. An increasing “social dividend”, meanwhile, accrued in various forms: longer vacations, more and cheaper state-supported education, earlier retirement, shorter work weeks, more social and literal mobility, and more diverse forms of affordable entertainment. Call all this, taken together, the blue model.

While American business abandoned the blue model long ago, especially the notion of providing secure employment and defined benefit pensions on retirement, American government, in Mead’s view, has not. Costs “are now exploding according to the immutable logic of demographic and actuarial facts, and it is clear that the government can’t pay them into the future.”

Hmm. I e-mailed Mead to ask what a functional, “post-blue” model of the liberal state might look like, and he wrote back:

Apologies that I don’t have a fully formed alternative social model ready to drop on a grateful nation, but whatever insights I come up with I will be happy to share on the blog. Believe me, I am working on it. Creating the policy framework to capture the full power of modern information processing capability to raise social productivity is a big part of it.

Finding that Mead is far less radical in his thinking than his critique of contemporary liberalism would suggest, I thought I would move on to more quantitatively inclined analysts of social insurance regimes. So I contacted two economists, Richard Freeman of Harvard and David Autor of M.I.T.

Freeman directly addressed critics of big government:

As long as we have big problems — climate change, terrorism and terror states with nukes, threats of pandemics, adjusting to China, India catching up with us, etc. — and have big banks that can destroy economies and big companies which can harm us per cigarettes and pollutants — I do not see what shield we have but government. The solutions to these problems are collective ones, which mean government.

What is troubling is that governments are flawed, influenced by special groups, and so on. But, Freeman wrote

I would rather be ruled by an elected government than the top 1000 billionaires on Forbes’ list — so I don’t think the issue is big government but the way government operates and hope that technology and information and media offer some chance for us to get a better handle over what big government does. Also I am not sure what you can shrink that would not open space for other big entities less limited by law and less sensitive to reaction of people.

Autor is a nationally recognized expert on the federal disability program, Social Security Disability Insurance, which he (and many others) consider to be “malfunctioning.” Autor writes that “it’s inducing a lot of desperate people to choose government dependency over work.” Given this line of analysis, Autor might be expected to be a critic of liberalism. By e-mail, I asked him “Is the disability program a prime example of the dysfunctionality of liberalism, or is it a unique problem not characteristic of the liberal agenda?”

His reply:

It’s neither. It’s an example of a program that was set up to do a lot of good and still does a lot of good, but one that has not changed with the times. Republicans are as complicit in this policy failure as Democrats. Neither has had the stomach to touch the program since the early 1980s, following Carter’s and then Reagan’s disastrous attempts at reforms. Every advanced country needs and has a disability program. But not all of them are on the same unsustainable trajectories as the U.S.’ program. Countries that are far more liberal than the U.S., like the Netherlands, have had the wisdom and courage to reform their disability systems to stem abuses while maintaining needed social insurance.

Autor argues that a reformed disability program should be a part of a structure of safety net programs that would provide a level of security that

arguably makes the public more not less receptive to accepting disruptive changes in market conditions. If the safety net is effective and voters understand that, they can safely support policies that have long-run benefits and short-run costs without putting themselves at personal economic peril.

In one significant respect, Autor agrees with Mead’s sense that government is no longer responding as flexibly and vitally as it needs to:

We’re going to have a social safety net. The question is whether we’re going to have a rigid set of institutions and incentives that have been ossifying since the 1950s, or whether we’re going to belly up to the bar and modernize these systems in light of how the world has changed and what we’ve learned from economics and social policy in the intervening half century.

Joel Kotkin, a fellow in urban design at Chapman University, faults the contemporary left from a different angle. Using apocalyptic language similar to Mead’s, Kotkin argues that the Democratic Party and the left are dominated by what he calls “gentry progressives”: largely white, well-educated, culturally liberal urbanites.

In an essay published by Forbes a month after Obama’s decisive re-election, Kotkin wrote:

The now triumphant urban gentry have their townhouses and high-rise lofts, but the service workers who do their dirty work have to log their way by bus or car from the vast American banlieues, either in peripheral parts of the city (think of Brooklyn’s impoverished fringes) or the poorer close-in suburbs. This progressive economy works for the well-placed academics, the trustfunders and hedge funders, but produces little opportunity for a better life for the vast majority.

Kotkin makes the case that the celebrated Obama coalition uniting well-educated, often upscale liberals, with such struggling, often disadvantaged constituencies as single women, racial and ethnic minorities, and the young is fragile at best:

The class issue so cleverly exploited by the president in the election could prove the potential Achilles heel of today’s gentry progressivism. The Obama-Bernanke-Geithner economy has done little to reverse the relative decline of the middle and working class, whose share of national income has fallen to record lows. If you don’t work for venture-backed tech firms, coddled, money-for-nearly-free Wall Street or for the government, your income and standard of living has probably declined since the middle of the last decade.

Entitlement reform, a darling of gentry progressives who share Mead’s fear that “costs are now exploding according to the immutable logic of demographic and actuarial facts,” is perhaps the quintessential case study of the inclination of the progressive elite to disregard the distributive consequences of their reform initiatives. Take the case of those calling for gradual reduction in Social Security benefits – either by raising the retirement age or switching to a “chained” Consumer Price Index (a revised inflation index which cuts government spending by reducing annual cost of living adjustments).

Who would be most affected? Those in the bottom 20 percent of the elderly who depend on Social Security for 84 percent of their annual income, and those in the next quintile dependent on Social Security for 83 percent of their income. At the beginning of 2012, the average Social Security benefit was $1,230 a month, or $14,740 a year. For 35 percent of elderly white beneficiaries, for 42 percent of Asian-Americans, for 49 percent of blacks, and for 55 percent of Hispanics, Social Security represents 90 percent or more of total income.

In the current debate over financing the cost of income support forolder Americans, the chained C.P.I. proposal has more political support than the progressive alternative of raising the current $113,700 cap on the amount of income subject to the payroll tax. Low-income Social Security beneficiaries are not equipped to absorb cuts in benefits that a switch to a chained consumer price index would entail; on the other hand, according to the centrist Tax Policy Center, raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax could completely cover Social Security costs into the foreseeable future without reducing benefits.

Obama’s victory and the growing evidence of an emerging majority Democratic coalition pose the danger that the left will take false comfort. The demographic forces currently powering the Democratic Party in no way guarantee a resilient coalition assured of a long-term competitive advantage.

In addition to the glaring class conflicts between the party’s upscale cultural liberals and the larger body of Democratic voters with pressing material needs, there are a host of potential fissures.

In cities from Los Angeles to Chicago to Houston, African-Americans are competing with Hispanics and others for government jobs, good schools, good neighborhoods, political power and basic resources. Republicans are looking toward these tensions to see how their party can capitalize on them.

Insofar as austerity advocates force Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate to accept budget cuts, similar ethnic and regional conflicts will plague the party, undermining political unity.

The determination of the Obama administration and many of its Congressional allies to raise taxes on the affluent is not, in political terms, cost-free. The Democratic Party has made huge gains – although short of a majority – among upper-income voters, and inasmuch as Democratic tax policies threaten the standard of living of this cohort, upscale left partisans may get cold feet.

The much larger hurdle facing contemporary liberalism is the need to reconfigure the welfare state in ways that maintain popular support while addressing a host of conflicting forces:

The aging of the population is steadily reducing the ratio of workers to retirees, expanding the “dependency ratio,” even as global competition drives governments worldwide to reduce corporate and individual taxes, cutting off the revenues to finance social welfare spending.
Other demographic trends, particularly the erosion of supportive extended family networks and the rising numbers of single elderly, serve to increase the demands for benefits from the welfare state.
Austerity policies enacted in response to high deficit and debt levels have resulted in increased voter suspicion of the “undeserving” poor and of “free riders” who are perceived as getting more out of government programs than they pay in, weakening support for the welfare state. Similarly, means testing old-age income security initiatives – particularly Social Security –would inevitably undermine universal support.

Liberalism now faces the job of paying for its own success in helping people live longer. The progressive ethos, currently embattled, has a proud history. What is uncertain is whether a durable social consensus can be mobilized in the face of the global economic pressure to reduce taxes and limit the scope of government. The Democratic left faces a daunting, but not necessarily insurmountable, obstacle.

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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Thu January 17, 2013 5:21 pm 
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There's a whole lot to deal with in there. What direction do you want this thread to take?


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Thu January 17, 2013 5:35 pm 
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I don't know that I have a preference. A sort of catch all 'what role should gov't be playing in our lives' direction I guess. If this makes sense elsewhere please move it :)

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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Thu January 17, 2013 6:02 pm 
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stip wrote:
I don't know that I have a preference. A sort of catch all 'what role should gov't be playing in our lives' direction I guess. If this makes sense elsewhere please move it :)
Hm. Well, for the record, here's what I posted back in January 2008 when 4/5 asked a similar question:

http://archive.theskyiscrape.com/viewto ... 1#p2171271

Green Habit wrote:
One of my core beliefs is that governments should be as small as possible, because they can focus closer on a smaller group of citizens, and that they're easier to be held accountable for. As such, this is why you see me often advocate for heavy spending cuts on the federal level, but if we talked more about local issues, I may advocate a more active government role.
That's really simplistic, though, and even back then I'm sure that I had some clear exceptions to that rule. One huge one that I can think of right now is that there must be a supreme law that states very clearly that governments of all stripes cannot pass laws to suppress certain rights. The Constitution does a very good job of that, and I'd be down with adding more to it. The one that could easily get me painted as a pinko lefty is that I could be fine with a clause that states that Congress shall pass no law that infringes on the right of people to collectively bargain.

I'm sure you'll want to dig a little deeper, so I'll let you go for it if you want.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Thu January 17, 2013 6:05 pm 
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what do you make of this as a response to your general view?
Quote:

Freeman directly addressed critics of big government:

As long as we have big problems — climate change, terrorism and terror states with nukes, threats of pandemics, adjusting to China, India catching up with us, etc. — and have big banks that can destroy economies and big companies which can harm us per cigarettes and pollutants — I do not see what shield we have but government. The solutions to these problems are collective ones, which mean government.

What is troubling is that governments are flawed, influenced by special groups, and so on. But, Freeman wrote

I would rather be ruled by an elected government than the top 1000 billionaires on Forbes’ list — so I don’t think the issue is big government but the way government operates and hope that technology and information and media offer some chance for us to get a better handle over what big government does. Also I am not sure what you can shrink that would not open space for other big entities less limited by law and less sensitive to reaction of people.

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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Thu January 17, 2013 6:46 pm 
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stip wrote:
what do you make of this as a response to your general view?
Quote:

Freeman directly addressed critics of big government:

As long as we have big problems — climate change, terrorism and terror states with nukes, threats of pandemics, adjusting to China, India catching up with us, etc. — and have big banks that can destroy economies and big companies which can harm us per cigarettes and pollutants — I do not see what shield we have but government. The solutions to these problems are collective ones, which mean government.

What is troubling is that governments are flawed, influenced by special groups, and so on. But, Freeman wrote

I would rather be ruled by an elected government than the top 1000 billionaires on Forbes’ list — so I don’t think the issue is big government but the way government operates and hope that technology and information and media offer some chance for us to get a better handle over what big government does. Also I am not sure what you can shrink that would not open space for other big entities less limited by law and less sensitive to reaction of people.
Environment and defense are legitimate "big government" tasks. The only caveat I'd add is that they don't get a blank check--their extent should be narrowly tailored to address clearly identifiable injuries. I think that's definitely a problem with the US's current defense budget, and I can foresee it getting out of hand with certain environmental agendas.

The bank question is more difficult. Ultimately, I would say that people have the ability to place their money in "safer" places such as credit unions, and I've recommended this to people who hate big banks. Of course, you eventually run into the issue of the power of the Fed and how it can assign primary dealers at will to big institutions like Goldman Sachs. I will say that I've never been convinced by the gold standard or competing currency arguments and that the most practical way to run a currency is by government fiat. Then again, you have the whole euro clusterfuck as a possible counterexample, and then I get a headache thinking about it all....

I don't buy the whole "democracy vs. plutocracy" false dichotomy that Freeman posits, though. In the end, people have the choice as to what businesses they accept or decline to engage with--either as a buyer or a seller. Businesses don't get that interaction by force (well, unless you're a health insurance company...). In order to succeed, you have to develop interdependence with others that makes it difficult to wield too much power. Unless, of course, they have the long arm of government assisting them to that power.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Fri January 18, 2013 2:04 am 
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I'll say one thing, sort of in line with the second comment there from Freeman (though I haven't yet read the initial post--he may have said it already):

Shrinking government does not automatically expand individual autonomy. For instance, the individual can do little to control broad market forces, whether the long term evolution of the economy or the psychological swings fueling business cycles. If the government takes more of a role in these areas, it doesn't necessarily hurt individual autonomy; in fact, if successful even simply in mitigating the extremes of debt deflation (ie keeping us out of another great depression), government can increase that autonomy.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Fri January 18, 2013 2:59 pm 
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Freeman wrote:
I would rather be ruled by an elected government than the top 1000 billionaires on Forbes’ list


I wonder if he could provide an example of a country where these are not the same thing.

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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Fri January 18, 2013 4:27 pm 
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the role of government is to keep the peace. how they do that is the debate between both parties.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Fri January 25, 2013 3:50 am 
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Question. Is there any state where welfare recipients are drug tested? Or was it always an idea to mull over?


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Fri January 25, 2013 6:00 pm 
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Florida I believe. The drug testing cost more than the money saved.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Fri January 25, 2013 6:02 pm 
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i think mandatory birth control for people on welfare is an absolute must.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Mon April 08, 2013 2:02 pm 
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nah wrote:
i think mandatory birth control for people on welfare is an absolute must.



Uh, they have a "final solution" for this as well. Their kids are now your kids and your kids are now their kids.




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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2013 2:16 am 
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Is it appropriate for the government to define businesses such as florists as 'public accomodations' and as such have them fall under civil rights legislation? Specifically in regards to gay marriage, which is what this sort of thing has become a flashpoint for. Several florists have been recepients of state legal action under just this guise. I suppose the proprietors, as they normally do not fall under the public accomdation definition could have just pointed to their "I reserve the right to refuse service to anyone" signs and been done with it.
Presumably they would had to have demonstrated a specific anti-gay bias in their refusal. But be that as it may, why should the freedom of association (in this case gay marriage) take precedence over the freedom of association in regards to the commerce of florists and other service providers? Why not rely on boycotts or social pressure? They may not cure all ails, but I believe they provide sufficient pressure to render legal action unecessary.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2013 2:32 am 
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i'll wait for my government to tell me what role my government should have.

kidding aside, this quote seemed pretty stupid to me:

Quote:
The class issue so cleverly exploited by the president in the election could prove the potential Achilles heel of today’s gentry progressivism. The Obama-Bernanke-Geithner economy has done little to reverse the relative decline of the middle and working class, whose share of national income has fallen to record lows. If you don’t work for venture-backed tech firms, coddled, money-for-nearly-free Wall Street or for the government, your income and standard of living has probably declined since the middle of the last decade.


i was unaware that all of these things only happened since Obama became president in "the middle of the last decade."

also this part seemed to contradict itself:

Quote:
In the current debate over financing the cost of income support forolder Americans, the chained C.P.I. proposal has more political support than the progressive alternative of raising the current $113,700 cap on the amount of income subject to the payroll tax. Low-income Social Security beneficiaries are not equipped to absorb cuts in benefits that a switch to a chained consumer price index would entail; on the other hand, according to the centrist Tax Policy Center, raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax could completely cover Social Security costs into the foreseeable future without reducing benefits.


so liberalism is supposedly fading away, yet it has the answer to covering SS costs? i don't see the fact that CPI currently has more political support as a problem with liberalism, i see it as a problem with politics.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2013 4:04 am 
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Please note the 'failure to reverse', as in while he may not be responsible for the initial event, his policies are largely indistinguishable from his predecessors on many fronts, and therefore have probably exacerbated things.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2013 10:36 am 
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simple schoolboy wrote:
Please note the 'failure to reverse', as in while he may not be responsible for the initial event, his policies are largely indistinguishable from his predecessors on many fronts, and therefore have probably exacerbated things.
please note that failure to reverse is different than made things worse.

i don't want to defend Obama, but i find it an incredibly useless exercise to say that a president and his cabinet are the only one's with the power to reverse a near depression. not to mention, we're recovering from it still and numerous politicians, mainly those on the oppose side of things from this president (clue: not liberals and their liberal liberalism) are holding back the policies that may have (and still could) help us recover quicker.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2013 11:19 am 
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elliseamos wrote:
simple schoolboy wrote:
Please note the 'failure to reverse', as in while he may not be responsible for the initial event, his policies are largely indistinguishable from his predecessors on many fronts, and therefore have probably exacerbated things.
please note that failure to reverse is different than made things worse.

i don't want to defend Obama, but i find it an incredibly useless exercise to say that a president and his cabinet are the only one's with the power to reverse a near depression. not to mention, we're recovering from it still and numerous politicians, mainly those on the oppose side of things from this president (clue: not liberals and their liberal liberalism) are holding back the policies that may have (and still could) help us recover quicker.


I would tend to agree that the executive's ability to improve the economy are frequently overstated. I'm not sure what exactly the Republicans are holding back. Stimulus that we can't afford? Better immigration policy perhaps, but thats more of a long term impact.


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2013 8:09 pm 
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simple schoolboy wrote:
I'm not sure what exactly the Republicans are holding back. Stimulus that we can't afford?
um, "It stands to reason that lawmakers who often decry the high jobless rate would want to be seen publicly trying to tackle the problem, right? Well, apparently not." nationaljournal.com

or, um, "GOP leaders are skeptical that they can arrive at a framework to negotiate a budget agreement with Senate Democrats. And tax reform and an immigration overhaul, while broadly supported, are still seen as long shots." politico.com

my statement wasn't that dems are perfect (mind you) just that putting all of "liberalisms" faults on the table and blaming obama is kind of a dumb article that's been written and ignored for almost a decade (b/c it's stupid).


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 Post subject: Re: Role of government
PostPosted: Wed May 01, 2013 8:11 pm 
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simple schoolboy wrote:
Stimulus that we can't afford? Better immigration policy perhaps, but thats more of a long term impact.
how are these two statements not contradictory?

scary stimulus we can't afford it (down the road).

who wants to deal with immigration policy, that'll only have a long term impact on things.


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