Sunday, December 04, 2011

Lessons relearned

If a silver lining to the Obama administration exists, it's that it serves as a reminder of the left's myriad failings. Over the last three years a welter of left-wing policies have been further exposed as intellectually bankrupt, doing more to undermine the cause than the Koch brothers or Cato Institute could ever hope to do. Where leftist theory has intersected with reality, it tends to resemble an insect's encounter with a windshield. Let us review the record of various policies and memes long championed by our friends on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum and how they are playing out:

Keynesianism: Perhaps no more long-standing tenet of leftist thought has suffered more in recent years than Keynesian economics. Despite talk of a net spending cut while on the campaign trail, President Obama's first major act after taking office was passage of a stimulus act comprised almost entirely of temporary tax credits and new spending initiatives equal to a massive 5 percent of GDP. Predictably, it failed, with unemployment higher now than when Obama took office and nowhere close to where the stimulus package's authors claimed it would be at this point in the recovery.

This is entirely unsurprising, given that the record of Keynesian fiscal stimulus is one of unmitigated failure, be it either Japan's spending initiatives of the 1990s (the country's government swung from a 2.4 percent of GDP budget surplus in 1991 to a 10 percent deficit in 1998) or the New Deal of the 1930s, in which prosperity did not return until almost 15 years later (note that while unemployment was vanquished during World War II, rationing and restricted consumption -- not prosperity -- was the order of the day). It hasn't worked in the past and is not working now.

Health care: No other sector of the economy, save perhaps the financial industry, suffers from more government intervention than health care. Thus it is little coincidence that the sector, so divorced from market forces, faces galloping costs. Naturally the left has insisted that the solution to the sector's ills is yet further intervention, and their wish was granted through passage of PPACA/Obamacare. Despite the fact that the legislation has not fully gone into effect yet, one provision has already been declared as unworkable, another tax element has been repealed and the constitutional challenges to the legislation are considered sufficiently serious that the matter has reached the Supreme Court.

High speed rail: For reasons beyond my comprehension, the left has long been fascinated with high speed rail. Perhaps it's due to Euro/China-envy, or the idea of being whisked from one fashionable urban enclave to another at taxpayer expense. Whatever the case, the intrusion of economic reality is causing projects to be canceled in Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio.  The left-wing bastion of California, however, remains undeterred despite new projections that have costs more than doubling, ensuring that high-speed railings failings will continue to make headlines for years to come.

Green energy: In left-wing circles the received wisdom holds that green energy/clean tech is the next great industrial revolution and must be supported by government handouts (why surefire winners need welfare is not clear). The past few years, however, have demonstrated once again that politicians do not possess a gift for identifying either industrial sectors or companies in particular that are poised to boom. After all, if they did they'd be working on Wall Street instead of Washington. In any case, the advent of the Obama administration has corresponded not with a boom in wind or solar energy, but a revolution in the oil and gas industry that has produced boomtowns in North Dakota and thousands of new jobs in the rustbelt. As predictably as the sun rising, the collective wisdom of the marketplace has prevailed over the fevered imaginations of the political class.

Education: For years the left's approach to education has been simple: more spending by the federal government and giving the teacher unions whatever they want. Any reforms that strip the government of control over education, such as various forms of school choice, are to be reflexively opposed. The failure of this approach is now so stark, however, that even members of the left are beginning to question the traditional orthodoxy. Documentary films such as Waiting for Superman and The Lottery have been well-received by the public while reformers such as Joel Klein and Michelle Rhee have risen to national prominence. Even President Obama, while tossing a bone to the teacher unions by ending the Washington DC school choice program, has called for the expansion of charter schools. The tide is clearly turning.

Unions: While the private sector has long understood that unions are a hindrance to efficiency and competitiveness -- which is why they now constitute a mere 7.6 percent of the private sector work force -- this lesson is just now starting to dawn on many of our public officials. From California to Rhode Island, governments are literally teetering on the edge of bankruptcy due to the high cost of benefits given to unionized public sector workers. 

Political grassroots: One common left-wing trope is that right-wing political activity has a proclivity towards violence and incivility, while those on the left represent the authentic will/voice of the people. It was little surprise that a report issued by the Department of Homeland Security shortly after President Obama took office warned of a possible rise in politically motivated violence by the right and when the Tea Party arose that The New York Times set off for Sandpoint, Idaho -- a town perhaps best known for its nearby Aryan Nations compound and the Ruby Ridge shootout -- to write a lengthy profile of the movement.

While right-wing activism certainly has increased since Obama's time in office, the Tea Party has produced nothing more violent than loud and pointed language directed at members of Congress during town hall meetings. In sharp contrast, left-wing grassroots activism has either fizzled (e.g. the Coffee Party) or -- like the Occupy Wall Street movement -- been accompanied by considerable mayhem and violence, with one pro-OWS blog tallying over 4,000 arrests. The Tea Party has sought to enact specific legislation and has even produced an alternative budget while OWS has refused to offer up its own policy agenda for scrutiny. The Tea Party picks up its trash while occupiers leave literally tons behind. The difference between political activism on the right and left in recent years could not be more clear. 

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None of this is to suggest that a rethink by the left of the policies they advocate for is in the offing. This is, after all, a group totally unfazed by either previous policy failures (e.g. the Great Society) or the successes of policies based on expanded freedom (e.g. free trade, deregulation). But perhaps these failures can serve as a lesson -- a refresher course of sorts -- for those who either have no prior experience with a leftist White House agenda or those who have but whose memories have faded.

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