Be Wary of the Return of Big Government

Union Station Washington DC
South Front Entrance of Union Station in Washington DC, July 4, 2019 (Unsplash/Caleb Fisher)

Big government is back.

Massive rescue programs have prevented business failures and unemployment on the scale of the Great Depression, even though last year’s economic contraction was nearly as bad. The European Union agreed a €750 billion recovery fund, financed, for the first time, by EU-issued bonds. The money comes on top of national efforts. The United States Congress passed a $2.2 trillion stimulus, worth 10 percent of GDP, in March and added another $484 billion in April. An additional $900 billion in relief was included in this year’s budget.

Joe Biden, the incoming American president, wants to spend $2 trillion more over the next four years to transition the United States to a greener economy and create a public health insurance program. Corporate tax would go up from 21 to 28 percent.

In Spain, a socialist government has introduced the biggest budget in Spanish history — partly to cope with the impact of coronavirus, but also to finance digitalization, electric car and renewable energy subsidies, infrastructure and rural development. Taxes on income, sales and wealth are due to increase.

In the United Kingdom, the ruling Conservative Party is building more social housing and it might renationalize rail. Unlike during the last economic crisis, it does not propose to cut spending even though tax revenues are down.

Same in the Netherlands, where all the major parties agree the government needs to do more to reduce pollution and prevent people at the bottom of the social ladder from falling through the cracks.

I’m not opposed to more government per se. I’ve argued that the United States should imitate countries in Northern Europe to improve its public services, particularly child and health care and housing.

But let’s be careful not to throw “more government” at every problem. Sometimes government is the problem. Read more “Be Wary of the Return of Big Government”

What Biden Should Prioritize in His First Term

Joe Biden
Former American vice president Joe Biden gives a speech in Des Moines, Iowa, January 4, 2020 (Phil Roeder)

Joe Biden’s priority as president will be alleviating the COVID-19 pandemic, which the outgoing president, Donald Trump, has mismanaged. 350,000 Americans are dead. Nearly 11 million are unemployed. Republicans were slow to approve the latest stimulus, which Trump, seemingly without consulting lawmakers of his own party, threatened to veto and then signed anyway.

But the Democrat’s first-term goal must be to revitalize the American Dream, which is out of reach for most.

In the 47 years Biden has been in Washington, first as a senator, then as vice president, social mobility has declined to the point where Europeans are now more likely to grow out of poverty than Americans. Real incomes have been stagnant for everyone but the wealthy. Traditional middle-income jobs have been outsourced or made redundant by automation. Most job growth comes from established businesses, not startups, suggesting a decline in entrepreneurship. Housing is unaffordable in the very metro areas where those jobs are. There are fewer opportunities for workers without a college degree, and the cost of higher education has outpaced income growth. So have the costs of child care and health care, making it harder for families to combine childrearing and work.

America could learn from Nordic countries and the Netherlands, which combine competitive, free-market economies with generous social protections for the middle and working class.

Many of Biden’s policies would move America in that direction.

Here’s where I would start. Read more “What Biden Should Prioritize in His First Term”

There’s Only So Much Race Can Tell Us

American voters
Voters listen to a speech by Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine in Davidson, North Carolina, October 12, 2016 (Hillary for America/Alyssa S.)

American journalists continue to parse the November electorate, specifically the Latino vote.

Matthew Yglesias, formerly of Vox, has a good newsletter about Donald Trump’s gains with Latino voters in which he links to Harry Enten’s analysis for CNN. It turns out Trump didn’t appeal to just Latinos of Cuban, Nicaraguan and Venezuelan descent, who may have been alarmed by Democratic flirtations with socialism given the experience in their home countries; he did better with Latinos of all backgrounds compared to four years ago.

This is fascinating to political junkies like us, but having just moved back to the Netherlands, where the campaign for the general election in March is slowly getting underway, I’m reminded that this sort of demographic analysis is almost entirely absent in Europe. Read more “There’s Only So Much Race Can Tell Us”

Trump’s Desperation and Republicans’ Shame

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump arrives in Salt Lake City, Utah, December 4, 2017 (ANG/Annie Edwards)

Donald Trump’s attempt to cling to power has been going no better since we last checked in. He is trying to steal the election, as I expected he would, but there are still officials, including Republicans, who care more about doing the right thing than humoring the president.

  • Election officials in all states counted all the votes, despite cries from Trump and his supporters to stop the count in states where he was ahead before mailed-in ballots could be counted.
  • Secretaries of state and governors, regardless of party, certified the results in all states, despite appeals from Trump and his supporters to overturn the popular will where the outcome was close and appoint electors for the president, rather than Joe Biden.
  • 86 judges of both parties threw out lawsuits brought by Trump and Republicans to discard postal ballots or otherwise invalidate the election results.
  • All nine justices of the Supreme Court, including the three appointed by Trump, refused to even hear a lawsuit brought by Texas attorney general Ken Paxton to overturn the election in four other states.
  • The Electoral College met in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. There were no faithless electors. Republican activists claiming to be electors in Michigan were barred from the state capitol, where the actual electors cast their votes for Biden.

Trump’s last (legal) opportunity to remain in power will be on January 6, when Vice President Mike Pence reads out the Electoral College votes in Congress. But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has already called on his members not to raise objections on that day. Read more “Trump’s Desperation and Republicans’ Shame”

Don’t Count on Republicans to Suddenly See the Light

United States Capitol
The sun rises on the United States Capitol in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Itzá Villavicencio Urbieta)

American centrists are optimistic. With Republicans likely to retain control of the Senate for at least the first two years of Joe Biden’s presidency — unless Democrats manage to flip not one, but two Georgia Senate seats in January — a new era of bipartisanship may be on the horizon.

Joe Manchin, the conservative Democratic senator from West Virginia, tells The New York Times he sees a “golden opportunity to bring the country back together and for us to work in the middle.”

James M. Curry and Frances E. Lee of the moderate center-right Niskanen Center argue unified government is overrated. Most legislation is passed with overwhelming bipartisan support.

Scott Lincicome of the conservative anti-Trump website The Dispatch finds that the economy tends to perform better when the parties split Congress and the presidency. Fortune magazine agrees.

This is the triumph of hope over experience. Read more “Don’t Count on Republicans to Suddenly See the Light”

Democratic Recriminations Argue for Switch to Multiparty System

United States Capitol
View of the United States Capitol in Washington DC in the early morning, January 15, 2017 (DoD/William Lockwood)

Democrats in the United States were hoping for more than a simple victory over Donald Trump. Polls had suggested they could win in a landslide.

That didn’t happen. Joe Biden decisively beat the president by more than six million votes, or a margin of 4 points, but Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives and failed to take the majority from Republicans in the Senate.

Democrats also lost seats in state houses, giving Republicans control of redistricting in most states; a power they could use to make it even more difficult for Democrats to win a majority of the seats even when they win a majority of the votes. (Districts are withdrawn every ten years following the Census.) Read more “Democratic Recriminations Argue for Switch to Multiparty System”

Biden Wins American Presidency, Trump Refuses to Concede

Race Is a Poor Predictor of How Americans Will Vote

Miami Florida
The skyline of Miami, Florida (Unsplash/Ryan Parker)

For years, it looked like Republicans were becoming the party of white, left-behind America and Democrats the party of upper-class whites and racial minorities.

Tuesday’s election hasn’t upended that narrative, but it has put a dent in it.

If you had to pick one characteristic to predict party affiliation, it would be education. The better educated Americans are, the more likely they are to vote Democratic.

Gender is another fair predictor. Women historically vote more Democratic than men. But relatively fewer men voted for Trump this year than in 2016, according to exit polls. Read more “Race Is a Poor Predictor of How Americans Will Vote”

If Trump Is Trying to Steal the Election, It’s Not Working

Donald Trump
American president Donald Trump boards Marine One outside the White House in Washington DC, July 31, 2020 (White House/Tia Dufour)

More than a month ago, I warned Donald Trump would try to steal the American election by depressing Democratic turnout, discounting postal ballots, changing the outcome in the Electoral College and possibly throwing the election to Congress.

Now that he has lost, and few elected Republicans are repeating his lie that Democrats stole the election, it seems that — hopefully for the last time — I overestimated Trump’s ability to put autocratic words into action. Read more “If Trump Is Trying to Steal the Election, It’s Not Working”

What Biden’s Victory Means for the World

Nguyễn Phú Trọng Joe Biden
Then-American vice president Joe Biden listens as Nguyễn Phú Trọng, the general secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam, makes a speech in Washington DC, July 7, 2015 (State Department)

Joe Biden, who was declared the winner in America’s presidential election on Saturday, would return the United States to the Paris climate agreement and the World Health Organization; rejoin the Iran nuclear deal if Iran complies with its terms; extend the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia; and end America’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen. Read more “What Biden’s Victory Means for the World”