Read my latest column in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel here. I understand that it is a bit vague. It's hard not to be in 800 words on that topic. My point is that conservatives need to think harder about how our core principles apply to today's issues. In 1980, there was a need to disrupt the postwar consensus about the state, taxation and regulation that had lead to a stagnant and increadingly unproductive economy. It was no longer working in a world that was even then globalizing. There was a need,as well, to disrupt an international consensus that left millions to their chains.
Things are different today. (Nothing stays the same.) My purpose in writing the piece was to participate in the discussion of how we ought to respond. I hope to be able to continue to participate in that conversation here and elsewhere.
Here are examples of the kinds of things I think we should be talking about.
We have a health care system that has evolved by accident and which, although it workes well for most people, doesn't work as well for everyone and creates certain economic inefficiencies.
We have a stubborn residual underclass that liberal welfare policies have helped to create and that we have not managed to eliminate or reduce.
Economic growth and free markets are going to create some greater measure of equality. The idea is that we'll all be better off as a result of the growth and innovation that results from relatively unfettered markets. I think the past 25 years have borne that out, but there remains a need to demonstrate that growth trickles down and there are limits to the degree of inequality that is consistent with social cohesion. I tend to think that the former is currently more a challenge than the latter and that Bush's concept of an ownership society was the kernel of the way in which it ought to be addressed. Unfortunately, for Bush, Iraq crowded everything else out.
Globalization challenges our educational system - a system that is well funded and underperforming. We have tried to respond with vouchers and I think that remains a good idea, albeit one in need of a bit of reform. Bush responded with No Child Left Behind, an odd combination of conservative (high standards) and liberal (unprecedented federalization of education) approaches. Maybe it doesn't need to be abandoned but it ought to be rethought.
The Republican Party went into the tank on spending during the Bush years. If we can't control spending, what is the rationale for us?
While I think that the charge that Bush's income tax rate reductions were "tax cuts for the rich" is misleading (any across the board cut in a progressive tax will favor the "rich"), our emphasis on the estate tax, capital gains and dividends - while ignoring the AMT - left us open to the charge that we are more concerned with the wealthy. There are good reasons to address capital gains and dividend rates, although I might have done it differently. My own prejudice is against taxing different sources of income at different rates. Capital gains taxes ought to be imposed after appropriate adjustments in basis and the problem of double taxation should be addressed by eliminating - or drastically reducing - corporate income taxes. Money should be taxed when it is received and at the same rate no matter how it is earned. (Although, in service of the ownership society, it might be appropriate to exempt an initial dollar amount of capital gains.)