The Long View 2005-11-13: The Shape of Things to Come

This post from 2005 was the first time I became aware of Ross Douthat. Ross has done well for himself as a pundit in the last twelve years, and now works for the New York Times. I've enjoyed his work immensely over the years.

The Shape of Things to Come

Who are Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam? They seem to be ubiquitous these days. They have their own bloglike entity at The American Scene, where you can find out more about them. I mention them here because of their remarkable article in The Weekly Standard of November 14 entitled "The Party of Sam's club." If the Republican Party really needs a new domestic agenda, it need look no further:


This is the first article I have seen in a conservative journal that admits just how anachronistic the traditional Republican platform has become. Thanks to past tax decreases, the federal income tax burden on the middle class is now low enough that few people find it onerous. At least on the federal level, Republicans can no longer run successfully on tax cuts, though there is room for political gains on the questions of simplification and fairness. The piece makes the interesting proposal that, instead of reforming the income tax so we can abolish the alternative minimum tax, we should abolish the income tax and retain the alternative minimum tax. That would in effect return us to what the income tax was supposed to be originally: a progressive tax on relatively high incomes. The shortfall caused by the abolition of the income tax might be made up by a modest consumption tax.

The authors broach the subject that the political system has heretofore avoided entirely: the need for mildly pro-natalist labor policies. This does not mean that Republicans should pursue the Democratic preference for professionalizing child-rearing through daycare, or by redefining the family out of existence. It does mean that pension systems and education subsidies should be structured so that young women have a realistic option to stay home and be mothers without jeopardizing their career opportunities in later life.

Immigration is the issue on which Republican voters are diametrically at odds with the Republican leadership. The voters do not dislike immigrants; they do perceive, correctly, that immigration suppresses wages at the lower end of the income scale. The most popular, indeed populist, policy at this point would be one that regularized the status of illegals who are settled in the United States while ensuring that the borders are secured.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the article is devoted to the need for a national health-care system. The Republican Party came to power in the 1990s partly as a result of the implosion of the unworkable health-care proposal that the Democrats made early in the Clinton Administration. Since then, the Republicans have evaded or derided the issue. This is a grave error. Guaranteed health insurance is not a question of help for the underprivileged. Almost all ordinary people at some point in their lives will have trouble providing health care for themselves and their families, or will find that the insurance they do have is inadequate. Furthermore, the overpriced and over-bureaucratized system in the United States has become deadly to the competitiveness of American manufacturers. The important criteria are: insurance must be portable, mandatory, and cheap. If I understand their argument, they say that the country needs is a national catastrophic insurance system, with a competitive insurance industry to manage the deductible.

Some combination like this, of cultural conservatism and social security in the broad sense, is probably the future. The question is whether the Republican Party can provide the vehicle. The Democrats could do it too, if they jettison some of their own pathologies.

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Several people have written to me over the past three years to ask when I am going to read Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt. Well, I have; the review is here. It's the best AH novel ever written. Okay?

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Reports from New Orleans has taken a surreal turn. The following information all appeared the New York Times this week (I would link to the articles, but the Times has that idiotic registration wall).

Murder rate in New Orleans falls to zero. This is because five sixths of the population is still missing. A criminologist described the disappearance of violent crime as "a great experiment," apparently without irony. The Times did not quote Tacitus: "They have made a desert, and call it peace." That would be too much to expect from the paper nowadays, I suppose.

New Orleans real estate market set to rise. Well, yes, I suppose it would.

On death certificates of the victims of the flood, "decomposition" is sometimes cited as a cause of death. After a major disaster, there is a delay before people can grasp causal relationships again.

Copyright © 2005 by John J. Reilly

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