Why the GOP Can't Govern

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 30 2014 9:16 AM

Why the GOP Can't Govern

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I dunno, John ...

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Zachary Goldfarb has an interesting piece about the mini-perestroika of Republican thinking about ways to enact policies that will bolster people's incomes and make their lives better. But then on paragraph nine you get to the key problem (emphasis added):

As they cast about for ideas, Republicans are struggling to find policies that match the simplicity and gut appeal of such Democratic proposals as raising the minimum wage without violating core conservative principles by increasing spending or interfering with market forces. Many lawmakers are turning to conservative think tanks, such as the American Enterprise Institute.

Many of us in America are struggling to find weight loss strategies that don't require us to spend more time at the gym or eat less food. It turns out to be challenging.

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The reality is that a whole bunch of forces are converging to put a larger share of economic growth into the hands of a smaller number of people. The idea of "interfering with market forces" can get a bit question-begging, but the point is that if you want to turn that trend around you have to change something. You can rejigger how the market works or you can tax and transfer more or you can do both. The good news in Goldfarb's piece is that a number of Republicans are trying to think of constructive things they could do. Marco Rubio, for example, has spoken favorably about the idea of a more generous EITC that would make less-educated men's work more valuable. But if that's an idea worth doing, then it's an idea worth spending money on.

Now note that historically conservatives have not had the view that it is always un-conservative to spend money. Ronald Reagan, for example, substantially increased government spending to pay for what he saw as a necessary military build-up vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. But if today's conservatives construe "core conservative principles" such that money cannot be spent on any domestic social ill, then they're going to have a very difficult time putting a constructive agenda together. Conservatives probably don't care what I think, but they might want to ask themselves if this is really a reasonable way to define conservative principles.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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