Customer Feedback, Week 5: The Immigration-Education Link

[Lay impressions on the GOP’s political messaging this week. More information about this series can be found here. Other posts in the series can be found here.]

"The good news is, conservatism is not completely dead." This was the tongue-in-cheek reassurance offered by a speaker at the National Review Institute summit last week, as related by Mark Steyn.  On the contrary, I thought it was an encouraging week.  Marco Rubio was on the wires, and that’s always good for conservatism.  On the policy front, gun control seems to be stalling, and economic reports gloomy. But the immigration debate is buzzing. And there’s not even a “cliff”!

Linking Immigration and Education

Marco Rubio is pleasing moderates but worrying the hard right with his leadership on the immigration front.  But a few commentators are pushing an interesting intersection of immigration and education policy.  AEI recently published a policy brief by David Feith entitled Making Americans: UNO Charter Schools and Civic Education, underscoring how important education is to any successful immigration policy.   One of the most successful recent policies to give immigrant children quality education:  Charter schools.  Illinois, of all places, authorized $98 million to the UNO charter network in 2009 to build new schools in overcrowded neighborhoods.  And it’s working.  So why not link effective school choice to comprehensive immigration reform?  As Hugh Hewitt wrote this week, “regularizing these children and then condemning them to the worst performing elementary and secondary school does nothing to advance the assimilation goals of the genuine immigration reformer.”

My understanding is that, at the very least, the average charter school is on par with the average public school, but costs about half as much. Thus, even if school choice doesn’t improve education for those who opt for charters, they won’t do any worse, and there will be fewer kids per class and more money left over for existing public schools. A true win-win.  Traditional reform faces a roadblock in teachers unions, who, according to former California Democratic Senate Leader Gloria Romero, “don’t want the change we need" and "will spend millions of dollars to stop it.”  Sen. Romero spoke at the Federalist Society Western Conference last Saturday, and I got a chance to speak with her briefly over lunch.  She made many powerful enemies speaking her mind on this issue while in the Senate.  Governor Jerry Brown, though a professed rogue beholden to no one, is, when it comes to the teachers unions, is the kind of good politician who stays bought.  Without a linked immigration-education reform, then, the prospects for true-blue California improving its dismal 47th place education ranking are grim. 

As for the federal government’s immigration power, reformers have an end-around.  Hewitt asked Erwin Chemerinsky this week if the federal government under its plenary authority in immigration matters can mandate these children get school choice.  “Absolutely,” he responded, before later admitting “I’m against school choice” because he’s opposed to letting parents use the government’s money on parochial schools.  Given the influx of millions of immigrant kids who have a short time to become assimilated and educated before they join a difficult job market, should such issues keep these kids from getting the best education we can possibly provide? 

That’s the argument, anyway.  I think it poses a worthy challenge. 

Now for some excerpts from Rush Limbaugh’s interview of Sen. Marco Rubio this week: 

RUBIO:  . . . . I think there’s this false argument that’s been advanced by the left that conservatism and Republicans are anti-immigrant and anti-immigration.  And we’re not.  Never have been.

. . . . Now, it was dealt with in 1986 in a way that was counterproductive.  Well-intentioned, but counterproductive because, A, they granted a blanket amnesty to three million people at the time, or that was the estimate, and, B, they didn’t do any of the enforcement mechanisms.  And so our point is if we’re gonna deal with this, let’s deal with it once and for all and in a way that this never, ever, happens again.

. . . .

RUSH:  The fear that many people have is that the Democrats aren’t interested in border security, that they want this influx.  For example, if 70% of the Hispanic vote went Republican, do you think the Democrats would be for any part of this legislation?

RUBIO:  (laughing)  Well, let me make an argument to you on that.  People always say to me, "Well, aren’t you worried about the political implications?"  I am confident, I really am, maybe people don’t share this confidence, I am confident that, given a fair chance, I can convince most Americans, including Americans of Hispanic descent, that limited government and free enterprise is better for them and better for their upward mobility than Big Government is.  Because that’s the reason why they came here.  You look at people that come from Latin America. They come to get away from stale stagnant economies where the rich keep winning and everybody else keeps working for them because Big Government dominates those economies. . . .

. . . .

You know, our argument about limited government is always harder to sell than a government program.  It always has been.  I mean, it’s easier to sell cotton candy than it is to sell broccoli to somebody, but the broccoli is better for you, and the same thing with a limited government.  Yeah, it’s a lot easier for a politician to sell people on how a big government program is gonna make their life better, but I think ours, once we sell it, is more enduring and more permanent and better for the country. 

Luigi Zingales and Arthur Brooks have made this point in their recent books.  It rings true.  I really hope it is. 

Chuck Hagel’s Uncomfortably Bad Confirmation Hearing

All you need to know is in Chris Cillizza’s lede yesterday:  “Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel was, at turns, halting, befuddled and, often, just plain bad during his confirmation hearing to be the next Secretary of Defense. And it almost certainly won’t keep him from becoming the next man to lead the Pentagon.” After listening to clips, one does begin to wonder whether he’s all there. 

Former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel. AP photo 

Debt, Deficit, and Krugman: What, Me Worry?

Serious question:  Unless and until I accept the general theory of Keynesian economics, should I bother listening to Paul Krugman?  Perhaps the converted find comfort when Krugman says, as he did in an NPR interview Tuesday, that “We’re not going to run out of cash because we print the stuff.”  But I find it somewhat alarming.  I suppose that’s because I suffer from what Krugman calls a “psychosomatic disorder” and an “obsession” that causes me to imagine that “the deficit is an urgent, crisis issue.”  This is the tactic made respectable by Theodor Adorno in The Authoritarian Personality published in 1950.  As Christopher Lasch writes in Richard Hofstadter: An Intellectual Biography, “The Authoritarian Personality had a tremendous impact on Hofstadter and other liberal intellectuals, because it showed them how to conduct political criticism in psychiatric categories, to make those categories bear the weight of political criticism. This procedure excused them from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation. Instead of arguing with opponents, they simply dismissed them on psychiatric grounds.”  Krugman’s found the loophole in the president’s recent injunction against name-calling:  it’s ok if your opponent’s a conservative—everyone knows they’re all crazy

During his interview, Krugman acknowledged that “Twenty-five years from now – yeah, something’s going to have to give,” and “It’s certainly something to think about but not – at a time of mass unemployment, mass suffering.”  Later, he again says “yes, let’s bring down that deficit; let’s worry about the debt. But we don’t – not now. So now is not the time.”  This sounds to me like procrastinating.  Why wouldn’t we make the same justification, on grounds of “mass suffering” or otherwise, a year, 10 years, 25-years-less-a-day from now?  Here’s Krugman’s response:

I agree that if you take the aging of the population, and you take the rising health care costs, that if you look at where the U.S. budget is likely to be in the year 2030, let’s say, it does not look sustainable. Something has to give. We’re going to have to do some combination of more revenue, find a way to spend less – whether that means reducing benefits or it means just getting serious about controlling health care costs, which is my preferred route. In the year 2030, we’re going to have to run our budget very differently than the way we run it right now.

The question is what, exactly – people are saying, therefore, we can’t run budget deficits now. That makes no sense at all. The amount of extra debt that we will or will not run up in the next few years is going to have – be almost irrelevant to our ability to pay those bills in the year 2030. And so people will say, oh, well, so we have to commit now to cutting entitlement spending in the future – which again, that may be something’s that’s going to happen. But why – if the threat is that at some future date, we will have to cut benefits; and that people are saying, so to avoid that, what we have to do is commit now to cutting future benefits – wait; what, exactly, have we accomplished? What have we done that is different?

What’s different is that we’ve set about the necessary task of managing expectations.  FDR understood the importance of expectations by making Social Security withholdings a line item on Americans’ paystubs.  Every pay period they would see money taken out, which would reinforce their expectation of receiving benefits, which would ensure that “no damn politician can ever scrap my social security program.”  Turns out, he was right.  And if we don’t begin tempering these expectations now, it won’t be politically possible to make the necessary changes when “something’s going to have to give” in 25 years as Krugman acknowledges. 

One last comment. Economic questions seem to be relegated to “dueling experts,” and average Americans are made to believe they’re unqualified to pass judgment. But as John Kenneth Galbraith said, “In the case of economics there are no important propositions that cannot, in fact, be stated in plain language… Complexity and obscurity have great professional value; they are the academic equivalents of apprenticeship rules in the building trades… They exclude outsiders, keep down the competition, preserve the image of a privileged or priestly class.”  “The man who makes things clear is a scab. He is criticized less for his clarity than for his treachery.”  It seems like an imminently plausible rule of thumb that there’s a problem when you’ve got more debt then the entire country produces in a year.  It is no answer to say that we are not in trouble of paying our debts because, as Krugman says, "we print the stuff."

Paul Ryan Surfaces

Paul Ryan had a good showing on Meet the Press last Sunday.  He rejected austerity, insisting we’re working to avoid a debt crisis that would bring on European-style austerity.  The difference is, the president doesn’t think we have a crisis.  This was also his response to David Gregory about the parties failing to talk with and understand each other:  If there’s a disagreement on something as basic as whether there’s a crisis, the proposals are going to be far apart indeed. 

On makers vs. takers, Ryan deftly responded that this is about opportunity:  The president’s characterization of safety nets, that they “free us to take the risks that make this country great,” is a strawman.  No one is suggesting the safety nets be removed.  The president begs the question regarding when we ought to be concerned at the number of Americans perennially depending on these programs.  Doesn’t this suggest we might be focusing too much on benefits and too little on opportunity? Ignoring that question suggests the president is not actually talking about opportunity, or about the government being a backstop or a safety net, and instead is talking about, well, something different. 

So, yes, we need a safety net.  But beyond a certain line, that net no longer incentivizes more opportunity and risk taking, but something different, and perhaps opposite.  Ryan responded perfectly to Obama’s building strawmen to win arguments:

“This is the straw man argument. The president I think said the week earlier that we have suspicions on Medicare and taking care of the elderly and feeding poor children. When he sets up these straw men, which is to affix views to his adversaries that they don’t have, to win an argument by default. It’s not really an honest debate. Here’s the point we’ve been making all along. We want to have a safety net. A safety net that’s there for the vulnerable, for the poor, for people who cannot help themselves. But we don’t want to have a culture in this country that encourages more dependency that saps and drains people of their ability to make the most of their lives.”

“Political conquest or political compromise?” Gregory says “it’s reminiscent, isn’t it,” that Obama wants to stop his opponents like the GOP did in 2009.  Bob Woodward and others on the panel did not push back very hard against this premise. He’s in scorched earth mode.  The Congressional Hispanic Caucus seems to agree, pleading with the president not to interject himself in the immigration talks for fear that “It would be a sabotage of the process,” and that “what nobody who actually wants to see this passed wants, is an ‘Obama White House’ branded bill getting introduced.  Yet he still flew to Las Vegas to threaten if Congress didn’t pass a bill fast enough he’d introduce his own. 

Enjoy the Super Bowl! Go Harbaughs!

Tim Kowal

Tim Kowal is a husband, father, and attorney in Orange County, California, Vice President of the Orange County Federalist Society, commissioner on the OC Human Relations Commission, and Treasurer of Huntington Beach Tomorrow. The views expressed on this blog are his own. You can follow this blog via RSS, Facebook, or Twitter. Email is welcome at timkowal at


  1. “My understanding is that, at the very least, the average charter school is on par with the average public school, but costs about half as much.”

    Two potential reasons this might be misleading (if indeed true):
    1. Special education services are typically provided by the district. So if Johnny goes to Charter Prep but qualifies for services, he either gets them by returning to his local public school or receives push in/pull out service via the district.
    2. Many charters share building space within existing public schools (a school within a school). I can’t say definitively but it is possible that facilities, maintenance, and other costs are rolled into the existing school’s budget.

    • It varies from state to state, but it appears charters spend more on administration and less on education, but overall spend less per pupil — sorta.

      First off, many get private sources of funding that don’t show up as part of the per-pupil costs. (That’s only state or local tax money that’s accounted for). Most charter schools don’t offer special education, summer school, transportation or a host of other things public schools do.

      The last study I saw (Spending by the Major Charter Management Organizations by the NPEC and covering Texas, Ohio and some state I can’t recall possibly New York) showed that while some cost less, the ones that had the best performance cost more than the public schools.

      I don’t know where you got the idea that charter schools cost “half as much”. The numbers I’ve seen bandied around were on average 21% less, which is pretty much accounted for by not having to handle special ed, bussing, summer school, and well — the sort of students charter schools don’t accept.

      • In my experience, charter schools often begin with a highly enthusiastic, motivated group of parents, who volunteer large amounts of money and time to make the school succeed. After a few years, this regresses to the mean, as do their academic advantages.

        • Those are the good ones. The not-so-good ones have the kids doing all the admin and janitorial work, and don’t bother buying much in the way of supplies.

          The study I referenced above noted that one of the best (KiPP) in the areas they studied uniformly spent more — a lot more — despite not offering those expensive things like “special education” or “transportation”.

          Neither charters aren’t a magic pixie dust for schools. Which is okay, because most school districts do just fine. And you need real magic pixie dust for the problem schools.

  2. . I think there’s this false argument that’s been advanced by the left that conservatism and Republicans are anti-immigrant and anti-immigration. And we’re not. Never have been.

    Rubio’s history is sadly off. But if his words can serve as a picture of the future, that would be nice.

  3. Ryan’s response to O’s discussion of safety nets would be better if it was said by some one who wasn’t trying to gut/radically reduce to a completely different less comprehensive form/eliminate universal health care. Maybe OPRE, as a quickee phrase, does have some merit. Ryan’s version of safety net is: somewhere between hazily defined and some people out there will do it, just as long as the gov stays out. Long live Rand.

  4. “I mean, it’s easier to sell cotton candy than it is to sell broccoli to somebody, but the broccoli is better for you”

    Republicans really have shifted since the days of Bush Sr, haven’t they?

    But seriously, I’m glad *someone* is finally making the argument that Rubio makes to the talk radio audience. The meme that ‘all these hispanics are just going to vote Democrat anyway’, a meme that is pushed a lot, both subtlety and explicitly, is equal parts stupidity and laziness.

    • is equal parts stupidity and laziness

      There’s some xenophobia mixed in there too (I mean, those people will never understand how to be good Americans.)

      • Well, I think all prejudice also springs from some combo of lazy and stupid (better word than stupid, though, is probably ignorance)


    Here they will come by the hundreds of thousands to take advantage of the latest sellout of the U.S. taxpayer. President Obama and his minions have declared a path to citizenship holiday. If there was any truth that the numbers of migrants and immigrants had dropped off, it will not be for long. The Sanctuary county of Los Angeles, California thinks 1 billion dollars in welfare benefits annually in pandering to illegal aliens; they need to clean their ears out of wax. Same with the $830 Million dollars to pay for entitlement programs in Nevada, for people who have broken our countries laws. 70 percent of illegal aliens with children All told, illegal aliens supported on our tax dollars are estimated to cost Texans almost $5 BILLION/year. And those figures are from 2007; the estimated cost today is $9 BILLION a year. Here are genuine references of the “here and now”, of 2007 illegal alien statistics for you to verify and then judge what will happen when President Obama tolls the bell?

    For all 50 states in 2007 the total cost was a whopping $338.3 BILLION A YEAR!!! Don’t believe it? The Statistics are available by typing into Google search box THE WORD “RENSE ILLEGAL ALIEN COSTS” The numbers are staggering and all the references are there to discover for yourself?

    The illegal alien adage of “SECURE THE BORDER FIRST” must be first and foremost before any discussions on what to do with the 11 million illegal’s already here (of course that is the federals government estimate, which is way down on the real numbers reported by Pro-Sovereignty organizations.) Two fences must be constructed as enacted in the 2006 Secure Fence Act, where a facsimile has already been built in San Diego, California. That double layer fence has worked, but our so called royal dignitaries who sit around counting their millions of future retirement dollars they will get when they depart Congress, would rather spend the tax dollars of American taxpayers in pandering to illegal migrants and immigrants. $338.3 BILLION PLUS dollars would build a great double fence, adorned with nasty concertina wire and then U.S. businesses would have no choice but to pay standard wages and benefits, instead of hiring foreign nationals living in the shadows.

    I tend to agree with the majority of Americans certain highly skilled immigrants who are in the STEM (Science, Tech, Engineer and Math) category should have access to an expedited visas, within limits. But then Guest Workers who wish to labor in the fields, farms, dairy should be highly regulated and tracked, that must depart after their contract expires. But we must use every resource available to impede foreign nationals are here to use the welfare system as we have our own poverty that we cannot sustain.


    Unfortunately the Liberal chorus out there will deny these facts, and will go one step further and delete any information about this growing, infuriating problem that is here to stay, unless Americans speak up? While the average American is scraping a few extra dollars to feed our families, illegal aliens are living of the taxpayer.

    It’s inevitable that the illegal immigration reform pardons from both the Republican and Democratic Senate is being heard loud and clear throughout the world arena. There is no “if’s or “Buts” that illegal aliens are very much aware that there is a good possibility if they start now they can take advantage of a better way of life, because the American taxpayer must support them financially; the U.S. courts says so, especially if you smuggled an undetected unborn into the country? If they turn up at the emergency room they must be treated you even if they have no identification, unlike the low income Americans who must produce a drivers license or at least a Social Security number, This allows a debt collector can track an then harass some elderly person or a single mother for money by bullying them? Without laws like THE LEGAL WORKFORCE ACT (E-Verify provision) In June 2011, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) introduced the Legal Workforce Act (HR 2164), an E-Verify bill that requires all employers to use the employment verification system. The bill features a three-year phase-in with 99% of employers required to use the system within two years. The bill also requires all federal, state, and local agencies to run existing employees through E-Verify. THE BIRTHRIGHT CITIZENSHIP amendment illegal aliens are going to figure some way of getting here. Rep. Nathan Deal (R-GA) reintroduced his Birthright Citizenship bill that would eliminate automatic citizenship for children born in the United States. The Birthright Citizenship Act of 2009 (H.R.1868) would amend the Immigration and Nationality Act to make it more difficult for children born in the U.S. to gain citizenship.

    Under the proposed legislation, a person born in the United States, in order to gain citizenship, must have at least one parent who is:
    a U.S. citizen or national;
    a lawful permanent resident alien whose residence is in the United States; or
    an alien performing active service in the U.S. Armed Forces. The LWA stops dead illegal aliens with mandatory authorizing in the workplace both new hires and long term employees. BCA would which is the most expensive payout by taxpayers, halting for forever children of illegal aliens gaining an immediate foothold by claiming citizenship and thereby FAMILY CHAIN MIGRATION.

    Call or otherwise contact the Senate office or the Congressional House of Representatives by going to Washington Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Government pages should also be in your telephone book and switchboard operator will connect you directly with your desired political potentate in Congress.

    • The birthright citizenship bill is clearly unconstitutional. The Supreme Court has already effectively defined the term for constitutional purposes (U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark case), and Congress cannot statutorily overrule the Court’s constitutional rulings (Boerne v. Flores).

      I know I shouldn’t respond to spam comments, but I just wanted to put that out there.

    • an E-Verify bill that requires all employers to use the employment verification system.

      Except for gun show workers.

  6. Tim, this may be unfair, but…

    I hope in your next post in this series you address the messaging in Citizens United’s DOMA amicus and the National Review’s anti-anti-Nazi essay.

    • The worst enemy intelligent, thoughtful conservatism has is right-wing punditry.

      • Just in case that was unclear: I mean that Limbaugh, NRO, and the like are the enemies of people like Tim.

        • Ain’t that the truth. If I were in Tim’s shoes, I’d be fighting harder against those people than liberals or Democrats since lefty opposition to conservative measures seems to be directly correlated with right-wing buffoonery.

          • Given today’s Democrats are generally somewhere to the right of Ronald Reagan on practically everything but gay marriage, there’s not a lot of wiggle room left on the right.

            I remember 1994 when the GOP was proposing the ACA and Democrats were demanding single-payer. Now the ACA is socialism and Naziism and Facism and the Death of All That is Good in America and the Democrats would totally like a public option, but only if everyone’s okay with that.

  7. Re Hagel: ” After listening to clips, one does begin to wonder whether he’s all there.” Is there a way to interpret this other than as a suggestion that Chuck Hagel is either mentally handicapped or suffering from a degenerative disease?

    I ask because, in the next paragraph, you seem slightly upset at Krugman for calling his opponents “obsessed.” Maybe you meant it as a compliment when you call this a ‘tactic’ that “excuses [the left] from the difficult work of judgment and argumentation,” and decided to adopt it for yourself.

    For the record, I would prefer if everyone avoided this sort of psychological criticism, since it is generally either technically wrong (no, schizophrenic does not, in psych jargon, mean two-minded) or needlessly stigmatizing and pejorative, or both. I would hope, however, to hold both my friends and enemies to that standard, rather than using it as yet another way to prove my moral superiority over those *******s on the [left/right ].

    • Hagel struck me as a guy who wasn’t particularly quick on his feet, especially verbally. I can sympathize. (I’d do awful in a verbal Q&A compared to written ones). I don’t think the job they’re vetting him for requires one to be, not like being — say — a diplomat or Secretary of State. (Running meetings is a lot different than Senate quizzes)

      Doesn’t mean “dumb” or “senile”. Couldn’t speak to those, although the best way to find out is to talk to the people who have worked for and with him and see what they think.

    • Krugman disparages his opponents because of what they believe. My observation about Hagel had nothing to do with the merits of his positions but simply based on his ability to string together cogent sentences and sustain a consistent train of thought. (For the record, I’m probably more ambivalent about most foreign affairs than your average conservative. Point being, I didn’t care much about Hagel’s appointment before his hearings, but his flat-footedness alarmed me.) I know very little about Hagel’s history—maybe he’s been like this all his life. I’d find that a little surprising, but if that were the case, I’d clearly be wrong. But if “not all there” sounds too disparaging, then maybe “lost a step” maybe is closer to my meaning.

  8. As I have heard remarked the illegal immigration problem from south of the border is resolving itself due to birth rate issues. With the total fertility rate in Mexico at 2.27 or so compared to 7 in 1960there will be a lot fewer folks at the source (Mexican population is predicted to decline starting in 30 years). As several articles have pointed out the lower birth rate will lead to fewer surplus workers at home, and thus fewer illegals. Given this I doubt that the wave we saw from 1986 to 2011 will continue see this article from AEI in 2007 on the issue:

    IF this is the case securing the border might become easier if fewer want to cross it for immigation, and if we legalize drugs then the major reasons for illegal crossing will fade somewhat.

    • In addition to the birth rate, the Mexican economy is improving. Most folks will prefer not to emigrate, if they simply have reasonable economic opportunity at home.

      Also, part of the recent decline was the American recession, which reduced opportunities up here. As that resolves itself we’ll probably see some rebound in the numbers, but probably not to anything like they once were (barring an unfortunate economic collapse in Mexico).

  9. Krugman’s position is simply that there is a jobs and growth crisis that hugely outranks an entitlements problem that we’ve known was coming for the last twenty years. He doesn’t believe the government can effectively work on both of these problems at the same time, so for him growth and jobs must come first as a matter of sequencing. For him that means short-term infrastructure spending and further aid to states to forestall more layoffs of teachers and/or hiring them back. Obviously for you it means something different. That’s fine, so long as you’re willing to put the issue first.

    Why should you be willing to do that? Because the longer we wait to take serious steps to put people back to work, the more productivity is lost in the short and long term, the worse shape we’ll are in to tackle all other fiscal and economic problems going forward. And why accept and infrastructure/education approach to boosting growth? – because these don’t just goose the economy in the short run, but they are the building blocks of greater long-term productivity).

    I agree that Krugman is a little vague on where he ultimately stands on the urgency of the entitlement problem, but his point is that it just really doesn’t matter, because the growth imperative so comprehensively swamps it as a short-run priority – *because* restoring us to trend GDP sooner than later is the thing that will most aid in dealing with those long-term problems. Getting started on the path toward reducing people’s expectations about what they can expect to receive in the way of pensions and health care from the government when they’re retired just doesn’t hold a candle to that priority, unless that’s just already your priority and would be regardless of what else was at issue (and indeed, perhaps would be even if there was no intake-payout deficit projected for the programs in any timeframe?). At least, it doesn’t to Paul Krugman. And that’s really all he’s saying. (Well, I guess that and that you have a psychological disease if you don’t agree with him. My question, then, is what his view of the current administration priorities – guns and immigration – is. I imagine there’s an argument that quasi-solving immigration helps productivity and social insurance projections both, which is probably correct. Guns is sort of exogenous due to events; if I were Obama I’d have just let Congress do what it was going to do on guns in the wake of Sandy Hook and not gotten as involved as he did.)

    • Oh, and, “Why wouldn’t we make the same justification, on grounds of “mass suffering” or otherwise, a year, 10 years, 25-years-less-a-day from now?”

      We absolutely would, and should, if conditions stay as they are. At some point in the midst of all that, we’d be forced to address the shortfalls. But won’t be politically impossible; it’ll be economically unavoidable. It’ll happen. But at least the people to whom it was happening could then make the decision they want to make, rather than have the baselines from which they’re working prejudged for them. (Granted, you view them as prejudged now. But others don’t. All this really is is the same old ideologicalfight about how extensive the social insurance state is.)

      But the point is that if, 25 years from now, the growth and employment problems are still as great as they are today, then then too they will rightly be the surpassing policy priority – even if we’re also in the midst of being forced to cut social insurance benefits. And if they’re still as great as they are today because we didn’t take the steps necessary to get us onto a better trajectory when we could (when loans to us in our own dollars were incredibly cheap, in other words), thereby leaving trillions of dollars of increased productivity n the table that can be gotten back – because we chose instead to focus on writing laws to spell out cuts to benefits that they then could just have easily have written for themselves if/when it proved necessary with little lost opportunity or productivity, well, they’ll have a legit beef with us.

      They really won’t care that we didn’t preemptively slash their Medicare before it was fully clear what amount of cuts were necessary or what they wanted them to consist of.

      • Michael,

        I take your point. What seems to me to be missing is the cost of benefits over the next 25 years: We could either save the next generation those costs, or make them pay. If we make them pay costs that we could save, that’s going to add to their baseline and would give them a beef against us.

        You make a good point that we do not want to save $1 by leaving $2 on the table in terms of lost productivity. That would give the next generation a beef against us, too. So the question is not just how to cut the most possible, but how to increase productivity at the lowest cost.

    • why accept and infrastructure/education approach to boosting growth? – because these don’t just goose the economy in the short run, but they are the building blocks of greater long-term productivity).

      I think I agree with this. One view of Keynesianism suggests it doesn’t matter what you spend money on. I reject that. But spending money on something that will obviously have long term benefits like roads and water and energy has a double effect: It has the effect desired by Keynes of putting money in people’s pockets, and it has the effect of actually increasing value.

      So the next question is: Has the spending in the past 4 years been on obviously valuable infrastructure projects? I actually don’t know. There is a running joke in conservative circles that no one knows what the stimulus bought us. (I think the joke was even cracked on NPR, iirc.) We know some of it went to green energy. But this is skirting the line between infrastructure and private research and investment: we can safely say that “green energy” is the future, but we cannot yet say which green energy technologies will carry the day.

      But again, I’ll go with your general premise here.

      • and public research and investment. 😉

        Spending money on roads is potentially building the last dinosaur, if you know what I mean.

        Infrastructure FIRST would go a long way towards making my vote turn Republican.

        • Yeah. And the example I bear in mind is that of the Charles River Bridge. [could’ve sworn I wrote about this somewhere but can’t seem to find it.] Infrastructure is a pretty safe investment and thus is the least like “picking winners and losers” of any kind of investment. Moreover, it is the most noxious soil for private enterprise as it frequently pits private interests against the public, as in the case of the Charles River Bridge — adhering to the contract would have prevented the state from building a new bridge to reduce congestion — and thus profits — at the bottlenecked private bridge.

          NASA is another good example where public investment and ownership makes more sense than leaving it to the private sector. Other examples abound.

          This might be another avenue where Republicans could advance a more positive agenda — e.g., after trying to reasonably reduce government spending, take up the cause of ensuring the money that is spent goes to vital infrastructure.

      • A lot of the stimulus went to aid to states so they could avoid layoffs and stay current with infrastructure projects that had been planned pre-crisis (maybe not special plans, maybe just routine projects) that would have been scrapped absent the state aid. There were some “new” projects in the stimulus, but it’s true that a lot of the new stuff was kind of reaching for visible ideas that you could actually show to taxpayers: “This is what the stimulus is.” But the fact was that there weren’t a ton of shovel-ready projects waiting for funding because there hadn’t been this major discontinuity in public dollar availability. Projects were planned around existing expectations for government spending – both on amounts and project types. The stimulus was written before a lot of the economic shock had worked itself through state budget cycles.

        But now the stimulus is long over. Austerity at the state level has been in place for years; indeed the stimulus by no means completely offset it. Hundreds of thousands of jobs in public education have been eliminated or left unfilled by law due to hiring freezes, and tons of routine-by-2008-standards maintenance and infrastructure upgrades have gone neglected. So in a sense – well, no, just flat-out in reality – the problem of a lack of projects to address in a new stimulus plan is actually a very faint shadow of the one faced by legislators in 2009. That doesn’t mean there aren’t still more ambitious ideas that could be considered, but a plan wouldn’t have to rely on them as much as the one in 2009 did (sort of, though I actually question how much it really did).

        I appreciate your willingness to continue to give the government-spending view of depression-fighting your time at this late date as a conservative, Tim. If you want to give the case a full hearing, ironically I do recommend Krugman’s 2012 short book End This Depresison Now!. There are probably better, more technical assessments of the question of deficit spending as a short-term growth enhancer out there that are accessible to laypeople like us, but I don;t know of one that address itself as directly to just exactly what the situation is now and a case for what should be done about it than this one. It’s not perfect; I don;t find myself completely persuaded by it. But it treats the short-term employment problem we face with as much urgency as any book I’ve seen that’s come out since the nature of the recovery-such-as-it-is has come into view. Also, it’s mostly free of the kind of swipes that tends to mar Krugman’s media appearances. (I do think that you have every right to be as offended by the “psychosomatic disorder” comment as you were, though I think you may overestimate how thought-out the use of that kind of phrase is by him – and I may be quite wrong about that.) “Deficit scaremongers” and “invisible bond vigilantes” language does crop up, but in my view these are just colorful terms he uses to illustrate arguments that he does in fact lay out in neutral terms in the book. You can of course be the judge (if you haven’t already).

        If you’re pressed for time, for a media appearance specifically on the debt question that both lays out his argument better than the one you happened to catch and also pretty much excludes any charges that those he disagrees with are afflicted with psychological disorders, I would recommend dialing up his recent appearance on Morning Joe with MSNBC. Don’t worry that’s he’s among friends on that network; everyone in the room with the partial exception of Ed Rendell, who still differed with him on priorities, was on the other side of the debt question from him, including the nominally liberal co-host, Mika Brzjoiwdcnski. If only to get a better sense of what his actual view is, I recommend the ten minute discussion. it’s where I got the account of his views I give above.

  10. Ryan:

    Here’s the point we’ve been making all along. We want to have a safety net. A safety net that’s there for the vulnerable, for the poor, for people who cannot help themselves. But we don’t want to have a culture in this country that encourages more dependency that saps and drains people of their ability to make the most of their lives.

    Let’s pretend that is what Ryan’s been saying all along. What are the parts of the safety is he saying does the latter and isn’t for the groups he wants it to be for?

    Our safety net essentially is for the vulnerable, the poor, and the infirm. I mean, for the old, too. They tend to be vulnerable. What programs is he describing here?

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