Robert Reich, Clinton’s former labor secretary, thinks I’m sort of a traitor to this nation. Well, not me personally, but people like me. In a lovely article entitled “The Tea Party’s Plot Is on the Verge of Treason,” Robert Reich imagines those in favor of limited government, like myself, as malevolent fiends bent on destroying government just to prove some petty point. Nothing could be further from the truth. And while there is variability within the Tea Party movement, we generally think that people are more likely to prosper with less government intervention, rather than more.
Imagine a plot to undermine the government of the United States, to destroy much of its capacity to do the public’s business, and to sow distrust among the population.
Imagine further that the plotters infiltrate Congress and state governments, reshape their districts to give them disproportionate influence in Washington, and use the media to spread big lies about the government[...]
A conspiracy theorist might think they welcome more joblessness because they want Americans to be even more fearful and angry. Tea Partiers use fear and anger in their war against the government – blaming the anemic recovery on government deficits and the government’s size, and selling a poisonous snake-oil of austerity economics and trickle-down economics as the remedy.
They likewise use the disruption and paralysis they’ve sown in Washington to persuade Americans government is necessarily dysfunctional, and politics inherently bad. Their continuing showdowns and standoffs are, in this sense, part of the plot.
What is the President’s response? He still wants a so-called “grand bargain” of “balanced” spending cuts (including cuts in the projected growth of Social Security and Medicare) combined with tax increases on the wealthy. So far, though, he has agreed to a gross imbalance — $1.5 trillion in cuts to Republicans’ $600 billion in tax increases on the rich.
The President apparently believes Republicans are serious about deficit reduction, when in fact the Tea Partiers now running the GOP are serious only about dismembering the government.
Reich must live on another planet—Krypton, perhaps, because his hyperbolic rhetoric sounds like comic book fantasy.
For one thing, the Tea Party does not “run” the GOP. Otherwise, why would Karl Rove, a man of undeniably great influence within the GOP, be waging war against the Tea Party with the help of his billionaire cronies? True, not all are pleased with Rove’s divisive efforts, but the Tea Party is still a guppy in shark-infested waters.
The Tea Party has actually languished since its meteoric rise in the 2010 mid-term elections. In fact, most of the Tea Party icons have removed themselves from power or been given the boot. Alex Seitz-Wald of the Chicago Sun Times writes,
Who are the names that come to mind when you think about leaders of the Tea Party movement?
Maybe Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Jim DeMint, Ron Paul and Michele Bachmann?
Those were the leaders listed by Tea Party activists in a 2010 Washington Post poll, at the height of the movement. You could add to that list a handful of other congressmen, especially outspoken Reps. Steve King, Allen West and Joe Walsh.
And then you’d realize that every single one of them either lost their job or abandoned being a voice of the movement.
What’s most odd—and embarrassingly contradictory—is that while Reich repeatedly claims that Tea Partiers “run” the GOP, he also concludes by saying that they are nothing more than a “small, radical minority.” A small minority whose ranks have only dwindled since 2010 is hardly capable of running an entire political party.
Secondly, Reich clearly doesn’t understand what he thinks he understands. Either that, or he’s comfortable willfully deceiving his readers.
There are two examples in this article that illustrate what I mean. The first of Reich’s errors comes at the end of this paragraph:
Besides, the deficit is now down to about 5 percent of GDP – where it was when Bill Clinton took office. It is projected to mushroom in later years mainly because healthcare costs are expected to rise faster than the economy is expected to grow, and the American population is aging. These trends have little or nothing to do with government programs. In fact, Medicare is far more efficient than private health insurance.
Not true. The fallacy he commits stems from his mistaken belief that Medicare is run by the government. It is not— at least, not much of it. Private insurers run a good portion of Medicare and Medicaid. Most people with public insurance are in private sector health plans, according to Dr. John Goodman. He writes, “More than one out of every four Medicare beneficiaries is in a private Medicare Advantage plan and two-thirds of all Medicaid enrollees are in private plans under contract with state governments.”What’s even more important to understand is the fact that private insurers are private in name only. Most private insurers aren’t using market-based pricing but are piggybacking on the convoluted Medicare fee schedule for their pricing basis.
However, there are shining examples of free market medicine where procedures are often paid out of pocket by patients and where the quality of service has improved over time while costs have plummeted. LASIK eye surgery would be one such example. Fifteen years ago you could undergo Radial Keratotomy, a crude precursor of LASIK, for approximately $8,000, which would be equivalent to paying $11,300 in today’s dollars. Then came LASIK, which has a lower risk of human error and a quicker recovery time and now costs about $3,800. There are even hospital facilities that refuse insurance altogether and offer a wide range of procedures at extraordinarily low cost, such as the Surgery Center of Oklahoma.
As Goodman also notes, “It is only in the private sector that one finds anyone who has an incentive to lower costs without rationing care.” That might explain why the median wait time for neurosurgery in Canada was an incredible 38.3 weeks in 2011. Without such rationing, Canadian healthcare costs wouldn’t be nearly so low. Either Reich doesn’t know this or doesn’t believe it. I’m not sure which is worse.
Reich’s second error is believing that libertarian-minded, small-government types support “austerity economics,” which is ridiculous. Some self-professed Tea Partiers might approve of “austerity”, likely because they don’t exactly know what the term means, but certainly not all. Ron Paul certainly didn’t, which only goes to show that when you pejoratively lump all “Tea Partiers” into a uniform aggregate, you get dishonest, imprecise results. Considering Reich is a Keynesian central planner, forever beholden to aggregates, his apparent inability to give accurate answers comes as no surprise. Austerity does not solely involve taking a meat cleaver to the federal budget, as Reich seems to believe or, at least, wants his readers to believe. Austerity, as it has been practiced in Europe, has necessarily required offsetting tax increases that, in many instances, has resulted in an increase in government spending. And when spending was reduced in those rare instances, the decreases were so small that it would be tantamount to turning back the clock a few years at most. The horror!
In May 2012, economist Veronique de Rugy at George Mason University’s Mercatus Center provided some inconvenient data on this very phenomenon that effectively eviscerates Reich’s argument. De Rugy writes,
We are told that austerity in Europe has failed. The elections in France and Greece, for instance, are supposedly evidence of people’s opposition to severe cuts in spending. However, the growing anti-austerity backlash against Europe ignores one fundamental point: If there is austerity in Europe, in most cases it hasn’t taken the form of massive spending cuts.
Following years of large spending expansion, Spain, the United Kingdom, France, and Greece—countries widely cited for adopting austerity measures—haven’t significantly reduced spending since “austerity” supposedly started in 2008.
First, France and the U.K. have not cut spending. Second, when spending was actually reduced—between 2009-2011 in Greece, Italy, and Spain—the cuts were relatively small compared to the size of their bloated European budgets. While Italy reduced spending between 2009-2010, it also increased spending in the following year by an amount larger than the previous reduction. Most importantly, meaningful structural reforms were seldom implemented. Whenever cuts took place, they were always overwhelmed with large counterproductive tax increases.
As far as I know, raising taxes and increasing government spending have not been planks adopted by Tea Partiers.
My last gripe is with Reich’s bombastic rhetoric, which exposes him as a hypocritical, disingenuous fear-monger. His suggestion that defenders of small government are a wicked bunch who delight in little more than mass joblessness and preying upon the fears of others is a most vile accusation. More caustic and scarier still is Reich’s bandying around the term “treason.” It’s thuggish rhetoric like that that further girds my distrust against the modern, secular State. It makes me wonder if I should get my affairs in order before I’m hanged on national television. And just because Reich may disagree with libertarians and Tea Partiers as to the means of achieving prosperity, it does not then necessarily follow that libertarians and Tea Partiers want to see the nation and its economy torn asunder. Contrary to popular opinion, we actually want nothing more than for people to grow healthier, wealthier, and wiser. We just don’t think that government needs to interfere all that much in order for that to happen.
Therefore, before you castigate Tea Partiers for stoking the fires of discord by disseminating lies, I suggest you read Matthew 7:3-5 and then carefully evaluate your own rhetoric, Robert.