Ideological Inanity: The Republican Economic Debate

The Republican debate on the economy was staged in New Hampshire, but quickly descended into a netherworld of Republican ideological cant.

Each candidate brought the idiosyncratic traits we’re learning to expect. Gingrich blustered about throwing Chris Dodd and Barney Frank into jail. Herman Cain touted Alan Greenspan – yes Alan Greenspan – as a great Fed Chair. That roused Ron Paul to tout the merits of going back to the gold standard. Michelle Bachmann reminded us of all those children and her voice in the wilderness, where, as far as we can tell, she remains. Rick Perry was AWOL most of the night, but aptly summarized the evening saying: “We don’t need to focus on this policy or that policy. We need to get America working again.”

And for all these Republicans it isn’t about this policy or that policy; it is about faith. All read from the same gospel, differing only in how literally they take the text. These debates have turned into Mitt Romney and not ready for prime time players, so let’s focus on what Romney says he believes.

Romney would do the following to get the economy going.

He’s against the American Jobs Act. He says the original stimulus failed, so apparently rules out increasing spending or decreasing taxes to get the economy going.

He even suggested he was against extending the payroll tax cut. Thus he would embrace a government cutback that would cots about 2% of GDP next year – almost unavoidably driving the economy into a recession.

Instead, he calls for a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. He’d cut corporate taxes, and not raise individual taxes. He would not cut defense spending. So apparently, he’d balance the budget by savaging Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and domestic spending on everything from education to energy. The last effort to do this was the Republican House budget that dismantled Medicare to protect tax breaks for the wealthy.

Romney would repeal health care reform – but doesn’t say how he would make up for the trillion dollars in savings that are projected to come from the reform.

Romney would repeal Dodd-Frank and free Wall Street to go back to the unregulated excesses the drove the economy of the cliff.

He’d give multinationals a massive tax break, allowing them to repatriate over $1 trillion in off shore profits at a nominal tax rate. Apparently, the trillions that companies are sitting on, waiting for customers, are not sufficient.

He supports the bailout of Wall Street, but opposes the rescue plan that saved General Motors and Chrysler. He doesn’t explain why he prefers a failed plan but not a successful one.

Romney is by far the most rational of the Republican field. But his agenda is nonsense. Business doesn’t lack confidence; it lacks customers. The global economy is on the verge of a renewed downturn. Turning now to austerity would be calamitous.

Most striking in the debate was that there was no mention of the policies that drove us into the mess we are in.

At one point, the candidates were asked about inequality – for thirty years, the incomes of the wealthiest one percent have soared while poverty has spread to record numbers. What caused this? Obama, of course, and his job killing plans.

We have had thirty years of conservative domination of our politics: deregulation, top end tax cuts, corporate trade policies, Wall Street wilding, the assault on labor.

And not only is there no apology for the failure, there is no recognition of it. These candidates uniformly tout the same policies that got us into the mess we are in.

Like Herman Cain, it makes me miss Alan Greenspan, who at least had the momentary grace to admit that there was a “flaw” in his worldview.