• Victor C. Bolles

A Better Way than A Better Way

Do not expect Donald Trump to slide off into anonymity after a losing election campaign as did Mitt Romney in 2012 or go back to doing the unglamorous work in the trenches of Congress as did John McCain in 2008, or even to return to his towers to count all his money. No, Mr. Trump will demand that all the attention of the media (mainstream and otherwise) be directed toward him as he lashes out at Republican enemies that undermined his campaign, at Democrats that rigged the elections, and at women that accused him of molesting them.

No, Mr. Trump will continue to try and dominate the headlines and force the new Clinton administration to the back pages. He will seek to frustrate the Republican Party’s efforts to rebuild itself after a humiliating defeat. He will view any future positive press coverage of the Republican Party as an attack on him and will respond by denigrating the report or the writer of the report.

So how will the Republican Party extricate itself from this unenviable position? If it tries to counter Mr. Trump’s attacks the party will be dragged into an endless fight of punch/counterpunch against a veteran counterpuncher. If it tries to ignore Mr. Trump and his “deplorables” he will threaten to form a new party.

A defeated and dejected center-right party being caught between a rising progressive juggernaut and a renegade populist/nationalist fringe party would not be good for America or Americans. It will take time for the Republican Party to recover from the damage incurred by Mr. Trump. Republicans will need patience and a plan. They are already facing demographic trends that are working against their traditional base. They need to come up with policies that will appeal to new groups of people as well as their base and get more people on board. How to do it?

The “Better Way” plan promoted by Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republicans is good but does not go far enough. It is wonkish instead of bold, it is incremental rather than transformational. Yes, it is a vast improvement of the current situation and is infinitely better than anything the progressives would come up with. But it lacks vision. It will change our course by a few degrees in the right direction but does not tack us onto a completely new course that the people seek. We need a better way than the Better Way.

I could come up with a point-by-point critique of A Better Way and offer alternative solutions on virtually every point. But that analysis would be much too long for this essay and would be a snoozer almost the equal of the Better Way itself. Let me instead make a few broad strokes to establish a vision that can rally the people and bring back the walking dead Republican Party.

Imagine an America where we make a break from the communal nature of the social-democratic state envisioned by progressives (the ubiquitous mixed-economy supposedly accepted as the modern standard by both the center-left and the center-right) and work toward a future that empowers the personal liberty of each American.

If you cut off an addict cold turkey he (or she) will soon be climbing the walls. Likewise, if the government tried to cut off our entitlement-addicted population from their government largesse, there would be a revolution. But if we could develop a path where we could eliminate the need for entitlements (a national 12-step program) then we could eventually disassemble the system that is slowly converting independent Americans into government-dependent drones. Elimination of the entitlement system is not only essential to resolving the looming financial crisis of our national debt, it is essential to restoring the original vision of the Founders.

A Better Way makes a substantial improvement in the current tax system and simplifies the process of filing taxes, but the goal should be to transform the tax system not modify it. The current Republican proposal retains a number of tax-incentive deductions. I say get rid of all deductions except the standard deduction. If a financial incentive would promote home ownership don’t give a tax deduction (the Canadians don’t have mortgage interest deductions yet they have a higher percentage of home ownership than the US) but write them a check. Instead of less tax revenue the government would have higher expenses. Same fiscal impact. No difference. Do the same for college expenses if you want. Same for clean energy. Same for any other program that government wants to promote. Supporting programs is what the government does but it should pay for these program with tax revenues and not tax incentives. The government should get out of the business of trying to influence our behavior through tax policy.

Another benefit of this type of tax policy is that people find it harder to write a check than to have an automatic deduction (just ask behavioral economists Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein, authors of the book, Nudge). Plus when the legislature approves a deduction in a tax law it is permanent, whereas an expenditure has to be approved every year in the annual budget.

A Better Way wants to continue employer based healthcare and the double tax deductions that have distorted the healthcare industry. Both Democrats and Republicans want to reduce your cost of healthcare. But without a cost impact on consumers the pricing mechanism of the free market economic system doesn’t work. Without the pricing mechanism and competition, the only way to control costs is through either the coercive power of the state or a complete government takeover of healthcare (keep in mind how well the VA system works). Healthcare is a terrible mess and it cannot be fixed quickly. Modest reforms will not inspire confidence unless they lead to an ultimate goal that serves the needs of the people.

These are some examples of bold proposals that will excite the Republican base and attract new followers. A Better Way is a good change of course but it doesn’t tell us where we are going. It is, unfortunately, really only social-democracy light. People won’t back it unless they really believe that they are headed in a new direction.

Fareed Zakharia, in an article in Foreign Affairs magazine (November/December 2016), asserts that western countries are being subjected to a wave of populism driven by slow growth, technological disruption and global migration. The modest reform efforts of mainstream political parties are deemed insufficient to resolve the problems the western countries face. He states, “this incrementalism produces a deep sense of frustration among many voters who want more dramatic solutions”. He goes on to say that these voters also seek “bold, decisive leaders to decree” such solutions. But populist solutions rarely work. Populist leaders with their bold solutions have often morphed into dictators such as Hitler, Mussolini and Peron. The Republican Party needs to come up with bold solutions that also preserve our democracy. This will not be easy.

(Oh! And by the way, the Republican Party will have even more problems if Mr. Trump wins.)

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