Wednesday, March 22, 2017

In Which I Attempt Economics (And Probably Fail)

In general, I'm wary of economics. Like healthcare, there's a ton of stuff I don't understand about the field and I get tired of struggling with my own ignorance. So, in what I imagine will be a futile and somewhat vainglorious attempt to unpack and educate myself on economics a bit, I want to compare and contrast two 'economic miracles.' Texas and Minnesota.

Minnesota is being mentioned in left-wing circles as an example of progressive governance done right. Governor Dayton reversed the trends of his Republican Predecessor and has raised taxes on the rich, increased public spending and created 'shared prosperity' for the people of Minnesota. And so far, it seems to have worked like gangbusters. Minnesota is doing quite well for itself, especially in contrast to the sea of red all around it. The question then is a simple one: is this sustainable?

Texas was another economic darling of the commentariat and it's experience suggests perhaps not. There are difference between the two though. Texas doubled down on the typical Conservative blueprint. It's doubled down on oil, slashed taxes, abolished the personal income tax and when oil was booming it did indeed look like hot shit, economically speaking. But then oil eased a bit and the bloom came off the rose somewhat.

So who's right, here? That much isn't clear...  Minnesota is doing well. The facts on that score are clear- but it's also in the middle of a small ocean of red states that are doubling down on tax cuts/cutting public spending and the usual Conservative touchstones. So a smart Governor might see this and decide to zig while everyone else around him zags and this could be what results. And that's what makes me somewhat leery about jumping aboard the "see, it works, you guys" type of a bandwagon. Illinois is a similarly blue state and is something of a dumpster fire. Yes, states like Kansas are in a bad way due to the continued fetishization of both tax cutting and an abiding faith in rich people to create enough prosperity to trickle down to the rest of us, but in the never ending war between these economic visions are there lessons we can learn? The real test is going to be if a 'Blue-ish' model makes a comeback in some neighboring states and how that might impact Minnesota over the long term. (Iowa's prognosis seems somewhat grim, as does Illinois. Not sure about Wisconsin's.)

It seems that politically, I have no home and therefore, economically I have no home either. I have no patience with video/rants like this which basically have an overwhelming naive belief in the cleansing power of rich people to create enough prosperity that it trickles down to the rest of the peasants. That shit doesn't work. But I'm not sure taxing the shit out of the rich works either...  and if you follow the progressive train of thought to it's logical conclusion, then we have to start talking about what the government can do versus what it shouldn't do. What works and what doesn't?

That is a conversation that I'm very much interested in. I think if I have a philosophy it's a vaguely utilitarian one at best- whatever does the most good for the most individual people (not special interests, not corporations, but real live 9-5 working people) then I'm down with that. Problem is that the majority of political discourse in this country isn't focused on finding solutions like that. In principle, I have no problem with someone popping the hood on the Federal government and asking simple, direct questions like, "Should the Federal Government be doing this? Could it be done better at a state or local level?" I think that's a sensible approach. But I also think the corollary to this- and a question the Left should be asking very loudly right now, is: "Do we really need an extra $54 billion in defense spending? Is the Pentagon operating at maximum fiscal efficiency? Has the Department of Homeland Security completed an audit? Oh hey, by the way, before we send Elmo to the chopping block, have we eliminated every drop of corporate welfare from the federal budget?"

What I like is a little bit of both, if I'm being honest. A vision of shared prosperity is better than trickle down nonsense, but at the same time if the government can get out of the way, it should. It just slows everything down. And with the size of cuts being proposed by the Trump Administration, it's no surprise that the howls of outrage often drown out simple truths about the level that these programs are going to be impacted.

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