"Rent-seeking" is formal jargon for corporate welfare
American conservatism: Opportunity missed
Norquist is right about taxes -- they are crucial -- and wrong about subsidies -- his side getting them is wrong, too. We trim and append this 2008 editorial from The Economist print edition of Mar 27.
by The Economist editorsEvery Wednesday morning some 120 members of what Hillary Clinton once termed America's “vast right-wing conspiracy” meet in downtown Washington, DC, to listen to news of the latest liberal assaults on America's liberties, plan their moves and counter-moves, and bask in the light of visiting luminaries such as Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich.
The meetings' impresario is Grover Norquist, a free-market fundamentalist who combines Vladimir Ilyich Lenin's flair for organisation-building (he heads Americans for Tax Reform and is part of many other pressure groups) with Lenin's predilection for facial hair. “Leave Us Alone” is his statement of conservative principles and a call to arms.
According to Mr Norquist, America is engaged in a life-and-death struggle between two great political coalitions: the “leave us alone coalition” (gun-owners, people of faith, entrepreneurs) and the “takings coalition” (bureaucrats, holier-than-thou liberals and rent-seekers). The key that will decide who wins this battle is taxation. “In politics, taxation is not the most important thing,” he argues, “it is the only thing.” Turn the key one way, and America remains America; turn it the other way and it becomes Europe, with lethargic growth, structural unemployment and scrotum-shrinking dependence on big government.
Mr Norquist has much to say on the relative strengths of these two coalitions. He worries about the rapid decline of hunting. He celebrates the fact that conservatives have more children than liberals and that this trend is increasing: the fertility gap between liberals and conservatives, he says, rose from 22.9% in 1974 to 41.5% in 2004. But, for all his ideological confidence and statistical fluency, his book is a disappointing assessment of the state of American conservatism.
Mr Norquist does little to defuse the obvious objection to his argument: that many Republicans believe in legislating morality (including banning abortion) while many Democrats believe that the government should leave people alone when it comes to sex (or its consequences). He also says little of interest about the multiple Republican failures of recent years. Surely the growth of government under George Bush suggests that, even if you ignore sex and just concentrate on economics, there is no simple distinction between the “leave us alone coalition” and the “takings coalition”? Many Republicans are only happy with less government when it punishes the other side. And surely the tight relationship between the Republican Party and the lobbying industry suggests that rent-seeking is not an affliction that is confined to one side? Mr Norquist's silence on this last point is particularly disappointing given his central role in the “K-Street Project”, a campaign that was intended to encourage lobbying firms to employ more Republicans.
Mr Norquist is also surprisingly silent about the debate on the future direction of conservatism. A growing number of conservatives are worried that their movement's fixation on Mr Norquist's government-loathing hero, Ronald Reagan, is becoming counter-productive. Some neo-conservatives argue that conservatism needs to make its peace with big government in order to concentrate on salvaging the war on terrorism. And some conservative populists insist that their movement needs to do more to win over anxious working-class voters.
The fact that Mr Norquist is happier reiterating his well-known views rather than engaging with conservative “heretics” means that “Leave Us Alone” is more of a missed opportunity than a manifesto for a new Reaganism.
JJS: People all along the political spectrum should rally around geonomic revenue reform. The right should like de-taxing our efforts and zero-subsidizing special interests while the left should like re-taxing our social surplus (the money spent on land, privileges, and other goods created not by labor or capital) and sharing it among all members of society. Combining the best of both worlds -- and something new, charges for use and abuse of the natural world -- should present a balanced program that could win a critical mass from all sectors of society, wouldn’t you think?
Jeffery J. Smith runs the Forum on Geonomics.
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