Stray Links for 8 December 2010

Lots of catching up to do, oy vey. 


* Megan McArdle ably summarizes the debate over the structure of the payroll tax holiday.

* At Economics 21, Charles Blahous explains a central flaw of the payroll tax holiday:

Let’s make this simple: Social Security benefits are funded by payroll taxes. If we want higher Social Security benefits, then we need to collect more payroll taxes. If we want to relieve payroll taxes, then we can finance less in Social Security benefits. Either policy is a valid choice. What is not valid is to refund the payroll tax while still pretending that we are successfully financing higher future Social Security benefits with money we haven’t collected.

* Peter Suderman on the doc fix

As of this week, it’s even harder to buy the line that the doc fix is somehow unrelated to the new health care law: Senate leadership has reportedly reached a deal to delay the called-for cuts and pay for a one year extension of Medicare’s payment rates. And they’re paying for it by taking money out of the health insurance subsidies included in the health care overhaul.

* Will Wilkinson has an excellent short essay on Larry Bartels’ Unequal Democracy that you should definitely read:

As I’ve argued at length elsewhere, inequality is a distraction and the real issue is that of improving the welfare and opportunity of the poor. The real issue is whether policy intended to do this “performs as advertised,” as Bartels puts it. It is not surprising that the poorest Americans are generally the least well-educated and have the least access to information about politics and policy. Everyone should have the means to make informed and effective democratic decisions. It would be ideal were each and every citizen to have the income and education typical of well-informed, motivated voters. To get closer, we need policies that will actually work to promote broader prosperity and a fuller realization of basic human capacities. We may want to equalize political voice, but then we need to know what would make that happen, and the democratic public has to vote for it. My worry is that lower-income voters are poorly positioned to act as democratic advocates on their own behalf, and that higher-income voters are more interested in signaling concern for the welfare of the poor (and for the environment, etc.) than in actually getting down to the business of finding out what would really improve it. I suspect that if there were more bona fide concern, there would be much less interest in strong signals, like party affiliation, and much more concern with the ins and outs of policy. [Emphasis added.]

Though Will and I disagree on the DREAM Act, I see it as a perfect illustration of the kind of signaling he has in mind.

* Matt Yglesias is right about President Obama’s central political mistake on the politics of tax cuts:


Who thinks John McCain would be president today had Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of full rollback of the Bush tax cuts?

I certainly don’t.

Had Barack Obama called for a return to Clinton-era tax rates as a presidential candidate, or rather had he called for ending the Bush tax cuts and starting from scratch, he would have been in a much stronger position. But his defensive crouch led him to embrace an impracticable position that I can’t imagine he took very seriously. The welfare state expansions he had in mind are incompatible with a steeply progressive tax code. 

* Read Ross Douthat on marriage and class in the U.S. I’ll write more on this soon.

* John Carney explains how the extension of Emergency Unemployment Compensation actually works.

* Might eliminating the death penalty lighten the fiscal load on state governments?

* Patrick Ruffini writes on the number of fans vs. the intensity of fans. He contrasts the Facebook following of Barack Obama with that of George W. Bush, and finds that while the current president dominates in number of fans, the former president has far more devoted fans, as measured by “likes.” This reminded me of Larry Bartels on energized minorities and the politics of tax cuts.

* David Weigel writes on libertarian legal scholar Randy Barnett’s newfound influence among conservative lawmakers. I was struck by the hostile reaction among liberals to the “Repeal Amendment.” Dahlia Lithwick and Jeff Shesol described it in a short piece for Slate a few months ago:

The most radical among them was an amendment permitting two-thirds of the states to band together and overturn any federal law they collectively dislike.

This hardly seems very radical. How many laws would yield that kind of opposition? I suspect that even PPACA would have a hard time clearing that hurdle before Congress chose to repeal it first. And is it not reasonable to give two-thirds of the states a vehicle for reversing a law, thus dampening congressional enthusiasm for measures that might impose excessive burdens on state governments?

Yet Lithwick and Shesol describe it as a daring, un-conservative notion.


For a party (whether of the Tea or Grand Old variety) that sees the Constitution as something so perfect as to have been divinely inspired, the idea that it needs to be altered fundamentally is beyond crediting, something like putting the Fifth Commandment up to a popular referendum. But the Tea Party vision of the Constitution has never been one of fidelity to the document itself, or even to the Framers. Instead, it’s a devotion to those scraps and snippets of the Constitution they accept, an embrace of only the Framers they admire, and an eagerness to jettison anything that conflicts with or complicates that vision, including the rest of the Constitution.

Here, then, if you needed it, is another indication that the Republican Party—in an act of grand, ongoing, unconscious irony—is assigning true conservatism to the ash heap of history and replacing it with a brand of radicalism in which nothing, not even the Constitution, is sacrosanct.

There are a number of conceptual leaps here: does the right champion the constitutional settlement as it now exists? Or does it suggest that there have been departures from an earlier constitutional vision — before the New Deal era, perhaps — that have proven unwise? Whether one embraces or rejects this framework (I think it’s a mixed bag, though I’m very sympathetic to Michael Greve’s critique of post-Erie constitutional jurisprudence) it is important to acknowledge it before turning to derisive remarks.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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