The Emerging Consensus

While I think the deficit commission’s final product was less than adequate to its mission (as I argue below), it is worth remarking on the extraordinary moment we appear to be in on the deficit and debt questions—a moment which the commission has had a lot to do with creating.

 

Between the Simpson-Bowles proposal, the Rivlin-Ryan proposal, the Domenici-Rivlin proposal (which came from outside the commission), and a number of other ideas thrown around in recent weeks, people in the center and on the right (helped no doubt by the election results) appear to be moving closer together on the question of what our highest domestic priority must now be. There is growing agreement in American politics that the challenge of our time is cleaning up the horrible mess created by the Great Society—the mess that is our approach to domestic discretionary spending but above all the mess that is our health-care entitlement system. That is the essence of our debt and deficit problems.

 

The question is whether we can deal with that mess by keeping the basic structure of the Great Society entitlements while trimming significantly elsewhere and massively raising taxes, or whether we must deal with it by fundamentally reforming those Great Society entitlements while trimming significantly elsewhere and spreading the tax burden more widely but less heavily to encourage growth and innovation. The latter is fairly obviously the answer to that question—given demographic and economic realities, and given the kind of country the American public wants to live in—but it will take a little time before that really sinks in. It is a very good thing, though, that the question is now being asked.

 

As the Rivlin-Ryan proposal shows, reforming the Great Society entitlements does not mean undermining the basic social safety net in America. It means gradually building a safety net that uses the market and the power of consumer choice rather than undermining it. That would not mean a radical transformation of American life, but it would be an enormously significant reorientation of our politics in the effort precisely to avoid a radical disruption in the lives of most Americans—a disruption sure to come if our existing entitlement system is left unreformed much longer. 

 

That is what we need now. Much of the right understands this. Slowly, some of the left will come to see it too. The work of the Simpson-Bowles commission in its various parts shows us that this can happen, but it also shows us that it will not happen right away.

Most Popular

Elections

Romney Is a Misfit for America

Mitt’s back. The former governor of Massachusetts and occasional native son of Michigan has a new persona: Mr. Utah. He’s going to bring Utah conservatism to the whole Republican party and to the country at large. Wholesome, efficient, industrious, faithful. “Utah has a lot to teach the politicians in ... Read More
U.S.

Fire the FBI Chief

American government is supposed to look and sound like George Washington. What it actually looks and sounds like is Henry Hill from Goodfellas: bad suit, hand out, intoning the eternal mantra: “F*** you, pay me.” American government mostly works by interposition, standing between us, the free people at ... Read More
Film & TV

Black Panther’s Circle of Hype

The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) first infantilizes its audience, then banalizes it, and, finally, controls it through marketing. This commercial strategy, geared toward adolescents of all ages, resembles the Democratic party’s political manipulation of black Americans, targeting that audience through its ... Read More