Back to whiggery?

Steve Teles suggests that the Republicans look back to the traditions of their predecessors, the Whigs, as they seek a way out of the political wilderness.  I can see the ideological attractiveness of such a party.

What I can’t see is its social basis.   Steve suggests that the Republicans ought to stand firmly by opposition to redistribution, corruption, and the capture of government by provider interests.

But that doesn’t sound to me like a fighting faith.  I doubt such a party could hold the racist/ nativist/gun-nut/homophobe/creationist/Muslim-basher constituency that now makes up a large chunk of the Republican base.

Let’s not forget that the historical Whigs had something very specific to deliver to their constituency:   not just “internal improvements” (infrastructure such as canals and railroads), but the tariffs to pay for them, which protected American manufacturing from European competition.  I don’t see the comparable feature of Steve’s imagined ne0-Whiggery.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

8 thoughts on “Back to whiggery?”

  1. And, of course, the Whigs *were* captured by their own special interests–manufacturers, who benefited (to some extent) from the tariffs *and* from the transportation projects 9especially the canals and the river projects; later, of course, the railroads).

  2. Republicans ought to stand firmly by opposition to redistribution, corruption, and the capture of government by provider interests

    One of those things is not like the others.

    I expect Republicans will have little difficulty rallying their troops against redistribution, as long as "redistribution" is carefully and narrowly defined to consist solely of redistribution to those people. The other two, though: not so much. "Republicans against corruption and regulatory capture" is akin to "fishermen against nets and baited hooks".

    That said, I wish the GOP every success in the project of emulating the Whigs to the greatest extent possible, especially to the extent of ceasing to have any role in the political life of the republic.

  3. Now that I've actually read the essay, I'm pretty angry.

    On the economic front, Teles makes it sound as if Reagan was pretty much all-right and that Democrats were incompetent to fashion a rebuttal to his agenda.

    Reagan started the rollback from the New Deal configuration that had: sharply progressive taxation at the upper end, bargaining power for labor, and businesses that provided pension and health benefits to the workers.

    First the tax code. It's one thing to remove loopholes and streamline the code. That's okay. But Reagan promoted the idea that it's reasonable to have a top rate that's not that high (in the 30% range) and lumps people making $200K with billionaires. The disparity in ability to pay for those in the top rate category is immense and the Reagan tax code failed to take that into account – to the benefit of the ultra rich. Lost revenues was a result.

    Reagan (and Bush and Clinton) heralded free trade and snookered people into letting their consumerist interests outweigh their interests as labor. So we get cheap goods from overseas (and sometimes outsource jobs as well) all so that we get an inexpensive product. But the downside is that labor's economic power is weakened domestically. That's why the productivity gains of the last 30 years have not gone to labor. Also why wages have been stagnant.

    Finally, there was a big con job with benefits. Most spectacularly with retirement. Instead of having a professionally managed pension, businesses enthusiastically fobbed off that task to the individual with the 401K. The results are now clear: people are not good at investing in most cases and their 401Ks are now seen as insufficient to meet their retirement needs (see Time's "Why It's Time to Retire the 401k"). The 401K did not spread risk and reward. If you got lucky, you're in the chips. If not, sorry bub. Sound familiar? It's part of the current health care debate. Republicans would have you face both your own infirmities and the medical profession as an individual. If you're healthy, well good for you. If you get sick, tough cookies.

    The Reagan plan for two fundamental aspects of living, health and retirement, was to move from collective risk & reward and move to individual risk & reward. Individualizing some aspects of life is fine, but doing it to health and retirement adds to misery and death in a society.

    All of the above can be summed up in David Brooks' expression the "Ownership Society". That's more or less a libertarian stance (which Teles appears to support) and while libertarianism has its merits on some issues, in the case of Reagan et al, it was used to destroy the aforementioned New Deal configuration. A configuration that was very good to the country for almost half a century.

    That last sentence should be emphasized. Wages shared in productivity gains (typically about 50%, the other half going to the capitalists). Inequality was reduced. There was a robust public infrastructure (schools, transportation) paid for by progressive taxes. Government borrowing was within reason.

    But people forgot. They forgot the Depression. They forgot how bad it was economically for decades prior to FDR. Instead, sitting somewhat pretty, they bought Reagan's simple small-town nostrums about how to do well. (My favorite from the early promote-401K days was that you could "do your own research" on a company before investing. Simple! There's an article in Reader's Digest that will show you how.)

    Now to the Democrats, particularly in the 1980s. They didn't do a good job of articulating their message, but it may heve been near-impossible anyway. History is littered with examples of reforms that, after a few decades, are not appreciated for what they've done, leading to their repeal and a return to darker economic days.

    In any event, it seems as if the Ownership Society, atomization of society, has produced a lemon and there may be a move back to New Deal thinking.

  4. Adding on to Quiddity's comment, I find that Stephen was very odd in this. Basically, if the GOP abandons core policies that they've had for a half-century to a century and a half, they could be more successful?

Comments are closed.