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August 07, 2005

Machine Politics

Paul Krugman writes:

Triumph of the Machine - New York Times: [T]he administration is crowing about its success in passing the long-stalled energy bill, the highway bill and Cafta, the free-trade agreement with Central America. So is the Bush agenda stalled, or is it progressing?

The answer is that the administration is getting nowhere on its grand policy agenda. But it never took policy, as opposed to politics, very seriously.... One of President Bush's great political talents is his ability to convince people who do care passionately about policy that he is one of them. Foreign-policy neoconservatives believe he shares their vision of a world transformed by American power. Economic conservatives believe he shares their dedication to dismantling the welfare state. But a serious effort... would require sacrifices Mr. Bush hasn't been willing to make.... His administration sought global dominance on the cheap, with an undermanned, underplanned invasion of Iraq that has, indeed, transformed the balance of power in the Middle East - in favor of Iran....

[T]alk of an "ownership society" appealed to conservatives who dreamed of rolling back the New Deal. But Mr. Bush has expanded... middle-class entitlements.... Social Security privatization was... an attempt to achieve radical goals on the cheap... a phaseout of traditional Social Security benefits in return for the magic of investing....

So what about those legislative successes?... Let's start with the energy bill... an exercise in corporate welfare, full of subsidies and targeted tax breaks.... [T]he pork-stuffed highway bill.... Cafta... promising to limit imports of clothing from China; over all, the effect may well be to reduce, not increase, international trade. But pharmaceutical companies got measures that protect and extend their monopoly rights in Central America.

These bills don't have anything to do with... trying to achieve actual policy goals like energy independence or expanded trade. They're just... favors granted in return for favors received.... [T]he administration does a bad job at governing in part because its highest priority is always to reward its friends. Most notably, the Iraq venture would have had a better chance of succeeding if cronyism and corruption hadn't undermined reconstruction...

Posted by DeLong at August 7, 2005 07:58 PM