Do We Want More of the Same?

 

Most of the time on this blog I address what I consider to be our country’s two biggest fiscal and economic problems: 1) economic growth which, at 2% per year for the past seven years, is too slow to create enough new jobs and higher wages for middle- and lower-income workers and 2) massive and rapidly growing debt, now at 75% of GDP, the highest since the end of WWII.
But from time to time I take a broader look such as:

  • James Piereson’s contention that the New Deal liberal consensus has broken down and we are headed for America’s Fourth Revolution.
  • Yuval Levin’s argument that both progressives and conservatives are stuck with a mid-twentieth century nostalgia to which it is impossible to return.
  • Senator Mike Lee’s (R, Utah) belief that Congress is itself responsible for its shrinking powers vis-à-vis the President and the Supreme Court.

Along this line, Yuval Levin and Ramesh Ponnuru have a powerful essay in the latest issue of the National Review saying that “Mainstream liberals now advance a vision of American government that is increasingly contemptuous of our system’s democratic character and seeks to break through the restraints of the constitutional system in pursuit of their policy ends.”

capture64This vision is advanced in three key ways:

  • Executive unilateralism, for example, by President Obama with respect to status of illegal immigrants, various suspensions and waivers in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, and net neutrality regulations.
  • The administrative state referring to the tangle of regulatory agencies that populate the executive branch. These agencies issue thousands of regulations per year which, given the vagueness of major legislation, means that the agencies legislate through their rules. Examples are the immense power of the Environmental Protection Agency and the implementation of the Dodd-Frank financial-regulatory reforms.
  • Liberal judicial philosophy understands the courts to be in the business of advancing what is properly understood as a legislative agenda. For example, two Supreme Court cases, a health-care related case (King vs Burwell) and a same-sex-marriage case (Obergefell vs Hodges) turned out this way.

Conclude Messrs. Levin and Ponnuru: “That the constitution makes the work of progressive ideologues frustrating is not an excuse for ignoring and subverting it. Arguments for doing so amount to unprincipled excuses for lawlessness.”

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The Fractured Republic II. Where Do We Go From Here?

 

I normally take what I consider to be a straightforward non-ideological approach to solving our country’s major problems. But in my last post, “The Fractured Republic,” I consider a larger framework constructed by the writer, Yuval Levin, who argues that both conservatives and progressives are stuck in nostalgia for a mid-twentieth century way of life to which it is impossible to return. As Mr. Levin points out, the last 100 years of American life have seen a consistent pattern of

  • Drawing together and then pulling apart. Three particular aspects of this phenomenon are pictured in the three charts below concerning immigration, political polarization and income inequality.
    Capture14
    Capture16Capture15
  • Midcentury America straddling two broad trends: a consolidated society actively combatting some of its least attractive downsides like institutional racism, sexism, cultural conformity and a dearth of economic freedom.
  • A diffuse and still diffusing democracy. The problems we face today are the price of progress. In liberating many individuals from oppressive social constraints, we have unmoored them from their communities, work and faith. In accepting a profusion of options, we have unraveled the established institutions of an earlier era.
  • Hollowing out of the middle layers of American society has resulted from the diffusing and polarization of our national life. Solutions need to involve a recovery of these middle layers by means that are consistent with diffusion, diversity and decentralization.

These four conclusions about the current state of our society point towards an agenda for renewal:

  • The left will have to accept that the modern U.S. economy is decentralized, with diminished union power, higher income inequality, where cultural and economic pressures work against class mobility and large, centralized federal programs are a poor fit.
  • The right will have to accept that modern American society is highly diverse, individualistic, dynamic and deconsolidated where a significant degree of cultural fracturing, family breakdown and estrangement from tradition and religion is a fact of life.

Conclusion: Very succinctly, American social and economic progress in the future will require conservatives to accept ever expanding cultural pluralism (e.g. gay marriage and transgender rights) and progressives to accept a greater degree of economic freedom and decentralization.

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