The Agenda

Stray Links for 29 January 2012

(1) Back in August, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote a short essay arguing that because the world’s emerging great power configuration is not particularly threatening to U.S. interests, the U.S. should embrace “a foreign policy based on restoring this country’s strength and replenishing its resources — economic, human, and physical.” Haass’s doctrine of “restoration” would involve a more discriminating, selective approach to military intervention and on “restoring the fiscal foundations of U.S. power.” Restoration might be a natural fit for a future Republican presidential candidate.

(2) Fred Barnes has an article on the Employee Rights Act, a proposal devised by the lobbyist and anti-union activist Richard Berman to curb the power of organized labor. Many of the elements of the proposal seem attractive, e.g., requiring recertification elections for unions every three years, giving union members the right to opt out of funding political activity, and guaranteeing secret ballot elections, etc. One assumes that this proposal will be vigorously attacked by the labor movement, which has been pressing for card check legislation and that devotes considerable resources to shaping political outcomes. Periodic recertification elections would likely prove very resource-intensive for unions, particularly those that haven’t demonstrated their value to members in consistent fashion. Indeed, period recertification elections and guaranteed opt-out rights might change the nature of labor organizations, making them far more responsive to members’ needs and service-oriented.

(3) And Andrew Ferguson makes an important point about the evolving higher education marketplace: competition from online universities and institutions that practice blended learning could check cost growth. My suspicion, however, is that government will have to do more than get out of the way, as incumbent institutions have been very active in raising barriers to new entrants and they’ll need to be checked by regulators who recognize the importance of fostering competition.

(4) John McCormack gives Romney backers reason to hope that their candidate is finally learning how to talk about taxes. He gives a deft explanation of the double taxation of capital income, for example. But McCormack also suggests that Romney’s agenda is far too timid to catch fire. Here was face a dilemma: it’s actually very useful to be vague on core policy questions, so that you’re not too constrained once in office. Chris Christie’s 2009 campaign, as we’ve discussed, was immensely vague, which gave him a lot of room to maneuver. Yet Christie was helped along by Jon Corzine’s profound unpopularity. This year’s Republican presidential nominee might not have that advantage.

(5) Megan McArdle has a terrific post on President Obama’s nostalgianomics, which brings to mind Brink Lindsey’s excellent paper (which should be extended into a Kindle Single) on “Nostalgianomics.” 

(6) Peter Suderman punctures one of the president’s supposed successes:

When GM went public, taxpayers bought up a 61 percent stake in its operations at about $33 a share. So I suppose Obama was right about one thing: The auto bailout was a bet of sorts; in order for the public to simply break even, GM’s share prices would have to rise to roughly $51. As of yesterday evening, shares are trading at $24.75. The company’s investors—that would be everyone who pays taxes—are losing money on this deal. This is straightforward industry favoritism, and it’s not particularly fair to the millions of American workers and taxpayers who play by the rules, but weren’t bailed out, and are now having to foot a giant-sized bill for a company that was.

Yet this is apparently the kind of success that Obama would like to see replicated across the country. “What’s happening in Detroit can happen in other industries,” he said. So taxpayers can take tens of billions in avoidable losses in order to bail out other failing industries too? Not exactly a blueprint for success, but it certainly tells you where the Obama administration would like to take the country.

I find it almost unbelievable that President Obama touted the auto bailout as the kind of success we’d like to see more of. If Mitt Romney could effectively make Suderman’s case on the campaign trail, he’d be in much better shape.

(7) From the left, Yonah Freemark is disappointed by the president’s modest infrastructure ambitions.

(8) Daniel Drezner argues that American decline is not yet upon us.

(9) The war over autonomous driving is heating up. A technology that could dramatically improve our quality of life, our health, and our energy consumption is in the hands of regulators, who tend to be risk-averse and inclined to side with “the devil they know.”

(10) Andrew Cuomo, the popular governor of New York state, has been pivoting left on taxes, and now it seems that he is (potentially) pivoting right on public pensions


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