Getting the right answer matters!
Live by the omnibus bill; die by the omnibus bill. We have lost a lot by trading committee work on understandable bills for total leadership control. Maybe the secret congress still does some of the old style of lawmaking, but it seems that spending bills are now strictly partisan and they are worse for it.
This is where it would be helpful to have a Conservative party and media apparatus with real ideas around government, rather than one that solely exists to trigger the libs.
There is a legitimate crisis in state capacity across our government. To name a tiny example, it takes the IRS 18 months to answer a letter. The Democrat solution is to septuple the IRS budget to hire auditors to chase down minor tax discrepancies. The Republican solution is to abolish the IRS. How about we just have a party that tries to get them to open the mail punctually and go from there?
Same problem exists wrt 3 year immigration court waits, 9 month passport turnaround, continued shutdown of social security services. Small c conservative good governance is highly in demand right now!
I might not always (ever?) agree with a more serious Conservative party, but it is unhealthy for that role to be played solely by Joe Manchin and Susan Collins across the entire government.
I think some of the problem can also be tied to the meaning behind things like “she has a plan for that” from Elizabeth Warren. Not only were those plans frequently one or two page aspirational documents recycled from think tanks, they were also often contradictory. The fawning of the left leaning press over her primary candidacy led to a complete lack of scrutiny of that, driven in part by journalists overwhelmingly supporting Warren, and the other candidates picked up on that messaging strategy by copying most of those plans, even though it was merely the having-a-plan that got good coverage not necessarily the goodness of the plan in question. Retrospective reflection on that from someone like Matt or Josh Barro who wasn’t all in on Warren as the savior of America might be helpful to the democrats in the future, but I’m not holding my breath that anyone in power would listen.
“Even for someone who is capable of rigorous analysis, most people find it more pleasant to get along than to have fights.”
We noticed a generational thing in my line of work a few years ago. The younger people had no ability to tell anyone anything that they didn’t want to hear. The youngsters made our business a lot nicer because they simply would not stay in contentious environments that the oldsters always took for granted, so adjustments have been made and things are much less confrontational.
The flip side to that turned out to be a problem similar to what you describe. Roles that exist to critique, refine and even reject weren’t doing it. Which can actually lead quite quickly to other people getting away with unethical or even illegal behavior.
Nail. Head. I direct a policy center and we are often called upon to wonk out on a proposal. We strive for objectivity but often we say amongst ourselves, “what on earth were they thinking?” And journalists seem more inclined to repeat the PR boiler plate that comes from one party or another. My hypothesis on why Paul Ryan earned the moniker “policy wonk” is that compared to other members of Congress and compared to the journalists that covered policy, the bar for being a wonk had gotten pretty low. I also blame academia because few journals leave space for detailed analyses of tax and policy implications, wanting more general, big headline journal articles using cutting edge statistical techniques. You won’t get tenure using Excel in a tax simulation although that’s how policy often best reveals itself.
Coalition-building is all well and good, but issuing a blank check to everyone within the coalition isn’t.
Let’s face it, some parts of any coalition are going to be wildly unrealistic, even outright delusional. And others are going to be self-centered to the point of robbing the public blind.
And that’s precisely what happened to BBB. It reads precisely like too much deference was given to several “pet issues” cliques and then a hefty dose of rent and patronage was piled atop.
None of it came across as good policy because really only the child tax credit and the climate provisions were, in the end.
The problem is all in syndrome. Anything that you do to criticize a program is automatically perceived as being against the goal.
The goal being a copycat of a Nordic style social democracy. I suspect many of those staffers if you got them drinking a beer and asked them if they had a magic wand that could magically replace our institutions and Constitution and laws with Sweden’s, they would say yes.
It’s not just that, look at that child care provisions that would’ve actually raised costs for some. Anyone who brought this up was automatically assumed to be against child care at all.
It’s related to when people have immigration discussions. The only correct answer is to have more of everybody. If people trying to discuss less undocumented migration versus more skill based immigration they are tagged as wrong. Note. I just use this is an example not as something that I believe. It just seems to be a subject that should be able to be debated.
Finally, I love the point he made about governing being hard. Yes it is, and maybe our institutions aren’t the most conducive to a certain sort of progressive change. But it is what it is. But this is also the reason why I always rolled my eyes when Democrats talked about the demographic tidal wave that would sweep over the country and give them decades of ruling power. This will never happen… Because whoever is in power will always get the blame, and the population will automatically shift to balance the two parties somewhere close to 5050. We are seeing that with Hispanics right now as they start to link conservative.
As always, I dictated this song my phone while laying in bed. I’ll try and correct any errors later. Go easy on me.
I was about to hop in the shower and I thought of one more point. I’ve noticed lately that mats online Twitter abuse now comes overwhelmingly from the left. 7 to 10 years ago, he was the favorite target of conservatives. The reason is Matt has that contrarian streak, which means he doesn’t fall into the all in syndrome I mentioned above. So if he is not 100% for them, he is against them.
On another note, I actually think that a lot of the intellectual pundits I follow like Noah Smith and him and others are actually pretty good about analyzing the individual proposals. It’s the party activists that are the ones who don’t seem to have any sort of flexibility.
Your description of the loss of rigorous policy analysis by Democrats really bothers me. I got a BA in public affairs and almost chose to go to the Kennedy School and seek to become one of the people conducting rigorous policy analysis at a high a level in government. But my girlfriend (now wife) was in NYC, so I went to law school in NYC instead and ended up as a Wall Street corporate finance lawyer. This has left me with little time to inform myself about politics and policy to the degree necessary to do my own rigorous analysis of what’s really going on. But the thought that Democrats have more-or-less thrown rigor away is painful to learn. Why believe that government can improve lives if one doesn’t strain to act based on rigorous analysis? Are we just another party that picks its policy issues based on superstition, hidden biases and crowd mentality? Perhaps this has been obvious to everyone else reading the daily papers. Perhaps Larry Summers’ inflation warning should have tipped me off two years ago. But I didn’t get it. I am digesting it now, thanks to you. I am grateful to you for focusing on the point. But it really , really depresses me.
Seems related to Scott Alexander’s “conflict theory vs. mistake theory.” To a conflict theorist, self-criticism is pointless- suboptimal policy is never really the biggest problem. The technocrats (mistake theorists), on the other hand, think that suboptimal policy is essentially the entire problem, but they’re out of power now.
"Getting the right answer matters!"
Except that with numerical answers -- and policy is almost always about the numbers -- rightness comes in degrees.
Getting the approximately right answer is super important. Getting a few more decimal places worth of rightness is often not worth the effort. Indeed, it may be positively counterproductive, when debates de minimis lead to political stagnation and delay.
This is one source of impatience with insider critiques. One group puts forward a concrete, imperfect, but achievable proposal, and then the smarty-pants snipe at its minor flaws. Sometimes Coalition Brain is just the good sense to take more or less one half a loaf instead of arguing over millicrumbs and getting no loaf at all.
I wonder from the beginning why all the political energy was focused on child care and pre-kay subsidies and not on the Child Tax Credit. Designing a program is intrinsically hard, writing checks is easy.
There were two sentences in this piece that stood out to me as truths that an increasing number on the left simply won't admit and perhaps don't believe and it's our own version of disinformation (admittedly of a far less serious and dangerous kind than on the right). (1) "Simply refusing to prioritize doesn’t change the fact that building a full European-scale welfare state would require very large, politically implausible tax increases." This drove me insane in the 2020 primary, the pretending that the wealth taxes on super rich people we don't even know would get us to Norway or Sweden when they have way higher taxes on consumption that fund their welfare states because we were destined to then disappoint people terribly (especially young people who were feeling the Bern) when this could never be accomplished politically in the US, not because of Joe Manchin, but because there is no real support for a VAT. (2) "Loan relief for recent law school grads will directly press up housing costs for working-class renters; you can’t just call it all stimulus." Isn't this the kind of claim that makes the twitter left hate MY so much. I think it's true, but I feel like you would not be able to get the NYT to acknowledge this in such stark terms.
The problem is we have a body politic that wants money for nothin and the cheques for free. Rather than helping people in need, we hand out massive amounts of PPP money to people who don't need it, farm subsidies to Cargill, and massive amounts of subsidies to the military industrial complex.
When people see all that grift, how does it *not* become a free for all where you have tradeoffs for the politically unconnected and "unlimited free shit" for people with enough money to pay a lobbyist?
Dating back to FDR the core insight of the Democratic Party has been that corporations have too much power, and it is the job of government to step in and provide a counterbalance in favor of the little guy. I think this insight remains true and very useful, but on the left it has become an increasingly totalizing form of analysis, that corporations and wealthy people are the only agent preventing the correct or humane policy across a whole slew of issues. This has led to helpless and blinkered thinking on issues where Democrats need to ask for tradeoffs.
1. On climate change, the obstacle to cutting greenhouse gas emissions is clearly the general population that basically wants no climate policy that will cost anything.
Democrats and left aligned interests have tended to blame corporations (100 companies, etc) or the financial sector (Raskin fed appointment) for missing policy as opposed to trying to pass the maximum clean energy policy that will be tolerated by the people.
2. On paid childcare, the obstacle is actually hiring enough people to run centers that can accept all the subsidies we hand out. Corporations and rich people would be in favor of more people working and being able to afford daycare.
3. On the pandemic, public health policy is really not that well aligned with "capitalism." More socialist Sweden notoriously did minimal Covid interventions, and having a completely nationalized health system did not spare the UK from tons of cases/deaths (indeed their pandemic politics don't seem all that different from ours though maybe they have fewer anti-vaxxers). But since it's an argument Democrats are keen to listen to, I've seen tons of people blaming "capitalism" in a generic sense and "employers" for getting rid of NPIs...
There are a lot of issues similar to this, but my overall point is that generally what you should look for is a way to actually solve the problem at hand rather than tie the problem to greedy corporations. In some cases (like the 2008 financial crisis and union busting) corporations are the actual problem. But in many other cases, they are not. And attempting to loop the issue of mask wearing or climate change to "corporate greed" is not going to help identify a solution that works.
In my career, so much of the value I've seen the most valuable employees contribute has come in the form of "kicking the tires" on ideas that other people just assume have been vetted or analyzed by someone else.
I see this all over the place: a story gets accepted without the details ever being really looked at. An example in the mainstream media was when Ron Rosenstein wrote that memo that Trump cited in firing James Comey. Most news reports described it as calling for Comey to be fired, which if you actually read the memo, Rosenstein was clearly careful not to do. Here and there, reports in the same exact publications acknowledged this, but there was no reconciliation of the contradiction. Maybe this was a small oversight, but it struck me at the time: everyone could read the document, and it just kind of didn't matter that what the reports assumed it said wasn't true.
I think part of the problem is that nobody wants to be seen as a 'complainer'. You see this in all avenues of work. People don't want to be seen as arrogantly thinking they know more than senior people with many years of experience.
Right now, there are many projects being undertaken across the world, large and small, that the people working at the bottom of said projects know are totally misbegotten. Sometimes they will raise objections and will be told to shut up, because >who are you to say this?<. Most of the time, they will keep their heads down and try to get on with it.
I somehow learned about the Zumwalt Class destroyer program that the US Navy has had a huge problem with (it wanted to build 32, but only built 3 compromised ships) . It turns out, according to the linked article, that the Navy were trying to combine the latest ship designs with cutting edge weapons systems straight out of R&D. How could anybody have seriously thought this was the right approach?