Thursday, December 12, 2013

Are Conservatives Voucher Addicts?

Michael Lind, founder of the New America Foundation, who styles himself a "radical centrist," thinks that conservatism is a one trick pony.  In Salon he complains that all conservative policy reduces to "vouchers."

He has a point.  We all know that conservatives want vouchers for education, to let parents take government money to the school of their choice.  But that ain't the half of it.
Healthcare? The right wants to replace Medicare and Medicaid with vouchers to let people shop for health insurance or healthcare in a deregulated healthcare marketplace.

Retirement? The right wants to privatize Social Security, replacing it with tax-favored individual contributions to private retirement savings accounts — a de facto voucher system.

The environment? Cap-and-trade, now demonized by conservatives, originated as a pro-market alternative to direct regulation of greenhouse gases.
Conservatives need to do vouchers in order to keep "the billionaires and the populists together in the GOP coalition."  The populists like their Medicare and Social Security, and "can’t afford to send their children to expensive private schools."  So vouchers represent an cynical abandonment of principle in the hard-right libertarian billionaires, a recognition that they need to buy the support of the gap-toothed populists.

We'll leave alone the notion that the conservative movement is run by libertarian billionaires.  After all, most of the billionaires are Democrats, from Bill Gates to Warren Buffet and the Google guys on down.  At least Republicans have the Koch brothers.

But give us a break, Michael Lind.  We want to demolish the whole corrupt, unjust structure of the authoritarian welfare state, so we have to start somewhere.  And for conservatives the way to start is to convert centralized one-size-fits-all bureaucratic administrative systems into subsidies.

Michael Lind may not know it, but conservatives are in two minds about vouchers.  Some policy analysts have warned that school vouchers will allow liberals to dominate the education system without actually running it as a bureaucratic system.  Just as the federal Department of Education bureaucrats can order universities around on the diversity and hate-speech front even though the universities are nominally independent, you can bet that they'd do the same to voucher-funded private schools.

Oh and by the way, when Lind sneers that "So far conservatives haven’t proposed voucherizing the Pentagon", he's full of it.  The Pentagon doesn't build its weapons at government arsenals; nor does it grow its own food. It outsources to eevil defense contractors.  Probably the only reason that government gets anything done at all is that it outsources pretty well all the actual "making" and "doing" to private contractors.

For conservatives vouchers aren't a panacea.  They are just a start, and usually preferable to naked, shameless, direct, brutal government by bureaucratic centralism.

And we have a principled justification for this.  With subsidies, at least you have the form of a market, and you have a system that responds every day to market signals even if the market signals are corrupted by subsidies.  With bureaucratic centralism there is no response to market signals, only to special interests and complete breakdown.

Still, subsidies lead to bubbles, as in real estate and in higher education.

Liberals use subsidies and vouchers as a half-way house too.  Obamacare is an example.  If liberals had their druthers, Obamacare would be a "single-payer" system, a glorious government bureaucratic system funded by taxes.  But liberals know that the American people don't want that.  So they came up with Obamacare and its subsidies: subsidies for the low-income, subsidies for the older participants, subsidies for the "pre-existing condition."

But maybe the eevil Republicans know their vouchers and subsidies better than the Democrats.  Because it looks like the Democrats utterly failed to do the math right on Obamacare.  And Democrats utterly failed to complete the bureaucratic tasks needed to get the whole thing off the ground.

But maybe that has nothing to do with government and subsidies.  Maybe all we are seeing is a ruling class coming to the end of the dynasty and running out of ideas.

But that's the sccusation Michael Lind directs at conservatives: "out of ideas."

No comments:

Post a Comment