The Agenda

Economic Pessimism or Economic Optimism?

I’m a great admirer of Jon Henke of The Next Right. Along with Patrick Ruffini, he’s one of the political strategists I most enjoy reading. He has a gift for clarifying political questions, as in this post:

What exactly is the message here? That Republicans think Medicare is peachy? Republicans are now the Party of the Entitlement Status Quo?

The Democrats tried to address Iraq like this in 2004.  Their proposals amounted to “The same, but….better! And less expensive! No hard choices for America! Please like us.”

The GOP is doing the same thing on health care.  This is not a policy vision; it is a campaign vision.  The message is: We want to pick off some senior citizen votes in 2010.

On the off chance that the Republican leadership is listening to anybody but their campaign operatives these days: The horse is supposed to go in front of the cart.  Policy should not be made by polling.  Campaign committees and operatives should be selling policy, not making it.

I do, however, disagree with him on this; Henke points to data that shows that household income has increased over the last thirty years as a way of suggesting that concerns about wage stagnation are overblown. But increases in household income can be attributed in no small part to an increase in the number of wage earners per household, i.e., more two-earner households. More two-earner households have tended to bid up the prices of housing in desirable school districts, and they’ve also removed an economic cushion for households experiencing temporary income loss. This doesn’t mean that the middle class is impoverished — that’s absurd. But it does mean that middle-class anxieties are rooted in reality. 

I wrote my column for Forbes.com on this subject. It’s a bit more pessimistic than I’d like to be, but with good reason. It’s based on some ideas I’ve discussed here at The Agenda. One thing many readers won’t like: like Greg Mankiw, I suggest that moderate inflation might be a good idea. 

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

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