Saturday, September 09, 2006

The Conflict Between Centrists and Ideologues

Brad Delong made a recent comment:

I am, as I said above, a reality-based center-left technocrat. I am pragmatically interested in government policies that work: that are good for America and for the world. My natural home is in the bipartisan center, arguing with center-right reality-based technocrats about whether it is center-left or center-right policies that have the best odds of moving us toward goals that we all share--world peace, world prosperity, equality of opportunity, safety nets, long and happy lifespans, rapid scientific and technological progress, and personal safety. The aim of governance, I think, is to achieve a rough consensus among the reality-based technocrats and then to frame the issues in a way that attracts the ideologues on one (or, ideally, both) wings in order to create an effective governing coalition.
So who are the Centrist Technocrats and who are the Ideologue Populists? Stirling Newberry wonders:

It is the talk of blogistan left, the controversial argument that he is a technocrat, and that being a technocrat is better than being populist.

To which I have to ask - is there really a conflict?
And after a discussion with Max Sawicky I think I have an answer: yes.

Populists on both sides want to spend the post-Cold War surplus, some want to spend it on tax cuts and corporate welfare, others want to spend it on new social programs. Populists also tend to oppose international trade and immigration.

Centrists want to save the post-Cold War surplus. Left Centrists want to preserve existing social programs and reduce deficits by increasing taxes, right centrists want to eliminate social programs to pay for existing tax reductions.

On both sides, the populists attempt to convince their respective centrists that irresponsible spending is necessary because if they don’t spend irresponsibly, the opposition’s populists will offer to do so and win elections. Currently it seems that the Republican Populists have had more success, but I maintain hope that right centrists will come to their senses after prescription drugs, Iraq, the Farm Bill, and the social security debacle.

If the populists are indeed correct, and it would be impossible to exercise fiscal restraint, I … I don’t know if I can finish that sentence. Suffices to say that war with China would be a real possibility.

An easy solution to the fiscal crisis we face is to create a new technocratic position similar to a Supreme Court Justice or Federal Reserve Chair who would be responsible for setting an allowable federal budget deficit.


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