Friday, January 3, 2014

Building the Future

Michael Strain recently wrote an article for National Affairs in which he outlines his idea for the next generation of the Right-wing jobs agenda. Mr. Strain has some good ideas that I myself have advocated for in the past (i.e. investing in infrastructure as a mechanism for job creation and economic growth during recession and recovery periods). Indeed, it's refreshing to see that a self-described conservative is suggesting this. It goes against the lockstep ideology that most mainstream Republicans these days seem to be favoring, which is that any kind of government spending is bad, and that domestic expenditures for infrastructure are just pork barrel spending.

Another unusual idea that Mr. Strain pushes for is for the Fed to push up inflation by a healthy margin. Again, this is something that many mainstream Republicans and a majority of hardliners have been screaming about. Specifically, the argument has been that hyperinflation is going to occur at any moment, and that if the Fed loosens up on its programs, we'll all see our economy tank once again.

Now, here's the interesting thing about this article, and Mr. Strain's points in general: they sound so very much like what Democrats have been trying to do for years. Despite Mr. Strain's comments to the contrary, infrastructure investment, increasing domestic spending as a job-making machine, and working with the Fed to help ease inflation upwards are all things that the Democrats have supported, and that Republicans (recently) attacked. So, what's changed?

In reality, nothing. Michael Tomasky, writing on The Daily Beast, has a wonderful article that firmly denounces Strain's. Tomasky points out that while Strain bemoans the fact that the stimulus bills from 2009 had little to no infrastructure spending, that was largely due to Republican backlash. Furthermore, much of those stimulus bills were full of tax incentives and breaks because of Republican demands (those same Republicans ended up voting against the bill anyway). The point, Tomasky asserts, is that Strain's ideas are not new at all, merely new for this generation of Republicans. And why haven't Republicans championed them before now? Because it was the Democrats that were pushing for them, and Republicans were opposed.

So, what will Strain's article accomplish? Will we begin to see hardline Republicans pushing for money to repair roads and bridges, or to upgrade our infrastructure? Will they advocate for high-speed rail so we can compete with Asia and Europe and cut our carbon emissions? Will they start a push for American-made green energy solutions, and vote to underwrite the research and development needed for the next generation of technology? Doubtful. It would be nice, of course, but then they'd have to explain why they were suddenly voting with the Democrats, and then the base would get all bent out of shape.

If Strain, a self-described conservative, can see the logic in approaching infrastructure spending as a job-creation engine (remember, the Republican mantra has always been that the government doesn't create jobs. Just ask any career politician), then there may be hope. I certainly think there is.

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