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May 07, 2005

Why Oh Why Can't We Have a Better Press Corps? (We Fear the Stupidity of Our Adversaries... Department)

Matthew Yglesias looks into the abyss and shudders as he realizes that, as far as America's right is concerned, Max Boot is about as good as it gets--and that's none too good:

Matthew Yglesias: Taxes, Spending, and Britain: Max Boot, what passes for an intelligent conservative op-ed writer, offers some advice to the Tories:

Much of the Tories' trouble is due to the skill with which Blair has seized the political center. He has run a tough, pro-American foreign policy while not interfering with a domestic economy that has produced 13 years of growth. Yet there are still issues on which he could be vulnerable, even if the Tories stay away from the 'third rail' of British politics, the National Health Service.The first of these is taxes. Although the Labor government has kept top income tax rates where they were after the Thatcher cuts of the 1980s, it has presided over dozens of stealth tax increases. The share of the economy taken by government has edged up from 35% in 1997 to a projected 42% today. (In the U.S., it's 29%.) The Tories should be promising big tax relief, as Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush did. Instead they're offering a paltry $7.5 billion in cuts, just 0.6% of the budget. . . .

Admittedly the Tories have some credibility problems in all these areas because of the disastrous John Major government, which took Britain further into the EU, raised taxes and cut the defense budget. But Major has been out of office since 1997 -- long enough for the Tories to have recovered. The reason they haven't is that they've been focused more on political posturing than on principled policies. As Bruce Anderson writes in the Spectator, Britain's leading conservative magazine: 'For the past seven weeks, the Tories have been suffering the consequences of seven years' timidity.'

[Boot] thinks the Conservatives ought to propose large tax cuts, large increases in defense spending, and promise not to cut the U.K.'s largest domestic program, the National Health Service. Most astoundingly, this mathematically illiterate advice is explicitly contrasted with 'political posturing' and put forward instead as a 'principled' alternative. That should give you a sense of the ridiculously poor quality of substantive policy thought on the contemporary American right -- this crowd wouldn't know serious thinking if it smacked them in the face.

The other takeaway point is the sheer irrationality of the tax cut jihad. Britain, as anyone paying attention to today's election will know, and as Boot even manages to concede, has had very strong economic growth during the Blair years despite having significantly higher levels of taxation than the United States. Nevertheless, conservatives insist that further tax cuts are necessary to make the American economy succeed and that the Tories do poorly by not slavishly imitating the nonsensical policies of their pals across the Atlantic. The real lesson should be precisely the reverse -- if over the next several decades we fully-fund Social Security's promises, extend health care coverage to all Americans, recommit to investments in public infrastructure, maintain a strong miltiary, and provide some more liberal goodies taxes will need to go up. They'll need to go up quite a bit. And the economy will be -- just like the British economy -- just fine even if we do it.

Posted by DeLong at May 7, 2005 04:33 PM