Fiscal Sanity

 | 

When the Tea Party took control of the House of Representatives in 2010, my worry was that they would sell out and become status quo conservatives — like most Republican politicians who have paid lip-service to laissez faire.  After the 2011 debt crisis, my fear is precisely the opposite.  The Tea Party House is too idealistic, too unwilling to compromise.

It seems to me that most Tea Party House members have been influenced (at some distance, granted) by Murray Rothbard, who suggested that you must insist upon total capitalist freedom right now. They have also been influenced by Ayn Rand, who likened compromise to poison. This must make a lot of libertarians happy, but it makes me both scared and happy. There are two reasons why I am scared, and one very different reason why I am happy.

First, as someone who believes in practical idealism, I believe that change must be enacted slowly or it will be doomed to long-term failure. The government has been quasi-socialist since the New Deal, and the American economic system has developed in such a way that it is designed for government to play a role. Simply eliminating all government intervention overnight instead of gradually phasing statism out would almost certainly harm the economy and worsen the recession, as the system would be unable to cope with the gaps in its structure.

Going from freezing to boiling instantly is a shock to any system, whereas increasing temperature gradually enables an organism to adjust and adapt. If the United States government shuts down before the free market has a chance to adapt and develop systems to replace government functions, the result will be chaos.

Second, if the Tea Party House refuses all compromise and continues to insist upon an idealism-or-nothing approach, the American public may become afraid of the dangers of radical change, and popular sentiment may easily turn against the Tea Party and libertarianism. The Tea Party and libertarianism are not identical, but the Tea Party movement is essentially a populist lowbrow form of libertarianism. If the Tea Party brand becomes unpopular it could set the libertarian movement back decades. The majority of the voting public can easily get scared by apparent extremists who threaten economic calamity in the name of abstract ideals.

This is so even though the Tea Party represents the very best ideals embodied in a long history of American patriotism dating back to the American Revolution. As a case in point, many Tea Party House idealists voted against the debt ceiling compromise, meaning that they wanted the government to default on its debt, which would have triggered a doomsday scenario for the American economy. I suspect that this scared many mainstream voters.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the above, I am actually happy as well as scared that the Tea Party House has taken such an insane approach. The Tea Partiers are crazy, but the modern liberals and conservatives are crazy too, and our insanity is better than theirs. A debt default would have been no more insane than ObamaCare or the war in Iraq. Trillions of dollars of unchecked growth in entitlement spending and more tax-and-spend Democratic budget deficits over the next decade would do more harm than a temporary government shutdown. Lofty idealism is a breath of fresh air, given the stagnant corruption that has emanated from Washington for the past century, and “much must be risked in war” (to quote The Return of the King).

I am happy with the Tea Party House’s strategy because the Tea Party could easily lose the House in 2012 and the movement might stall and dissolve, so this 2011–12 era may be our one and only opportunity to shrink government and restore fiscal sanity. Therefore the Tea Party should continue to fight to cut the government as much as possible, and make it difficult for future Congresses to undo its achievements, because the Tea Party may not last forever. The Tea Party House could be our one shot at saving America from an Obama-led collapse into socialism. In the context of my happiness over the Tea Party House’s unyielding idealism, a little bit of fear isn’t really such a bad thing after all.




Share This

Comments

Brian

What bothers me most about this article. And many others in Liberty, lately. Is that they try to equate the Tea party movement with libertarianism.

The tea partiers can best be described as Ross Perot style populists. Maybe with a little Pat Buchanan thrown in.

As has been said, if you want to vote for a libertarian, vote LP. If you want to vote for a populists, at best, or at worst the same old Repulicans, vote for the Repulican candidate that claims affiliation with the Teas.

Kant feel Pietzsche

1. "Compromise" is a negotiating tool used by two or more parties who agree on a subject in principle, but have differences regarding the details. Anyone who compromises on principle deserves exactly what they get.

2. If merely reducing the rate of growth at some vague and unspecified point in the future is too much of a "shock to the system", we might as well all drink the Kool-aid now, and get it over with.

edmitzo

I don't think we have to worry about Congress charging headlong into fiscal responsibility.

Rodney Choate

Russell,

Your statement that refusal to consent to a debt limit increase is somehow proof that someone WANTS (or expects) a national default was unfair, unkind, unreasonable. It would be bad enough had this idea been something you, yourself, had cooked up; but to just repeat this unexamined smear scare tactic used by our enemies, and direct it toward your friends here? (kind and friendly as your piece was)

I really don't recall anyone expecting everything to be fixed "by tomorrow". The there is A LOT of ground between the two extremes. How much should the good continue to have their property stolen so that the moochers and looters aren't made too "uncomfortable"?

TomInPA

I'm more happy than scared -- take the debt ceiling crisis as a case in point. The Tea Party reps dug in their heels for debt reduction, and they got . . . basically nothing, a promise that spending would be reduced sometime in the future. The left (and the centrists) have been so far out for so long there's really no room for compromise. By sticking to their guns they have managed to get the Democrats to start saying that spending should be reduced; that's a huge victory, but there are enough entrenched special interests that any dismantling of the federal government will be acceptably slow.

Jon Harrison

"If the Tea Party becomes unpopular it could set the libertarian movement back decades." The implication of that statement is that libertarianism, as a political movement, is going somewhere. It ain't. Libertarianism is irrelevant (at best) to the vast majority of the population. It has a future as an educational and lobbying "movement" on specific issues like reforming drug laws, but it's got no future as a broad-based political movement. The typical Tea Partier mouthing libertarian sentiments displays (one sees it again and again) a political and economic naivete than would be amusing if it were not so dangerous. The Tea Party House members have done us all a service by forcing Washington to face fiscal reality. But beyond that, their staying power is limited. According to polls, they are only a little less unpopular than the Congress as a whole. Any legislative successes they achieve will actually decrease their popularity over time, as the bitterness of their medicine becomes apparent to the electorate.

That said, there are still some very shrewd insights in this piece.

Rodney Choate

Jon wrote:
"Any legislative successes they achieve will actually decrease their popularity over time, as the bitterness of their medicine becomes apparent to the electorate."

A well-worn fact Jon, but always worth remembering. Thanks

I keep thinking that ,,,,,,,,,we're screwed.

Jim Henshaw

re this: "I believe that change must be enacted slowly or it will be doomed to long-term failure. The government has been quasi-socialist since the New Deal"

Wow, so much failure to grasp irony in such a short passage. The New Deal consisted of radical, rapid change, and yet the core of it still exists today. And shortly after the income tax was first established, the rates shot up by 1,100% in three years:

Top marginal federal income tax rate in 1915: 7%

Top marginal federal income tax rate in 1918: 77%

To get the equivalent of such radical change now would require, for example, cutting the top marginal tax rate elevenfold, reducing the top rate to around 3%.

A similar escalation occurred just prior to FDR taking office, with the top marginal rates jumping from 25% in 1931 to 63% in 1932.

Would chaos and doom ensue if the time of the New Deal was run in reverse, with an abrupt shift away from socialism and a huge cut in federal taxation? I doubt that. I suspect the likely result would be an astonishing recovery of the economy and an end to official unemployment rates hovering near 10%. It would be a GOOD THING if the government suddenly quit embracing socialism.

re this: "As a case in point, many Tea Party House idealists voted against the debt ceiling compromise, meaning that they wanted the government to default on its debt, which would have triggered a doomsday scenario for the American economy."

Oh, nonsense. Insisting on the federal government not spending more than it takes in taxes -- insisting on the feds living within their means -- would not mean defaulting on debt, nor would such a restoration of fiscal prudence "trigger a doomsday scenario".

Unless you think the federal government spending about what it received in revenue in the early 2000's would result in catastrophe -- funny, I remember living in that time and don't recall any apocalyptic events from the federal overspending of that time.

MKA

What an articulate rebuttal JH. I would only add that the TEA party, in all these replies, are made to appear to be budget and fiscally responsible. Ask TEA party representitives would they vote for a budget cut in defense spending (I think the booing of Ron Paul during the recent Republican debate answers the question). I also have a hunch if a bill to build a wall on the southern border came to the house for a vote, these TEA backed congressman would spend billions on brick and mortor without hesitation. They are not the party to cut spending as they are branded, but just want to direct the flow of revenue to support their own ideaology.

Brian

Excellent point, MKA.
Why is this author equating Tea Party fortunes with libertarianism? The "Tea Party" is not even economically libertarian. Not to mention their oppressive beliefs regarding individual liberties not involving economics.

"Tea Party" candidites are operating under the same delusions the Republican party have been for years. Mainly, If we could just control "wasteful" government spending, everything would be great. Don't worry about what is now 65% of US federal spending. Social security, Medicare, and Defense. It's the imaginary money that is not spent on non-white immigrants that bothers them.

© Copyright 2013 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.