19.11.14

A CONSENSUS AGAINST THE RENT-SEEKERS?

The Tea Party might be yesterday's news, and more than a few observers still see libertarians as diplomatic cover for potheads and dopers.  All the same, the results of the recent midterm election have provoked some thinking about what sort of corrective the electorate seek.  (In my view, the people who didn't vote also matter: they might not have seen anything worth voting for, and parties seeking to increase their vote can do so, and increase turnout in train, by identifying what voters might prefer.

From the left, Isaiah Poole suggests the "populist and broadly progressive" majority slept through it all.  But in his lament is a recognition that Government is not automatically For the People.
Of course there are a lot of people who lack faith that government can get things done, and mistrust that government can once again be a good steward of the dollars it deducts from increasingly stressed paychecks. That is where bold progressive populist leadership comes in, to unmask the special interests that capture agencies and politicians, to call out the obstructionists who stand in the way, to highlight the things that work in spite of it all – and to open the public’s eyes to ways we can build a nation of shared prosperity.
There are elements of that passage the most cynical adherent of public choice theory would enthusiastically concur with.  And perhaps a modest and limited set of public actions might be a way to credibly commit government to being a good steward of dollars.  (We'll leave changes in the withholding rates as a way of reducing that stress for another day.)

From the right, Maggie Gallagher envisions a conservative populism, which she strains to distinguish from libertarian populism.
Conventional conservatives are going to sound a lot alike, and I predict most will say little that sounds new or gripping to the average voter. Our ideologies are disconnected from ordinary voters’ lives. But this in itself is a clear opportunity, one that some candidate is likely to figure out and seize, to demonstrate that the conservative Republican base is not really libertarian. At the core of our concern is the value of hard work, innovation, and economic growth that reaches down to the average American family.

What might this new conservative populism look like? Its distinguishing characteristic will be seriousness about creating the economic conditions that raise the standard of living of the middle class, and a willingness to violate pure libertarian symbolic policies to get there.

Call it a coalition of the hardworking (janitors, waitresses, dentists, small-business owners and entrepreneurs) against the emerging coalition of cronies who prefer to work Washington relationships and siphon off bundles of cash.
There's nothing in the above that a libertarian would find a deal-breaker. Certainly a left-populist might favor breaking up the money center banks (and applying the same medicine to other too-big-to-fail companies) as she proposes; the libertarian might advocate shutting down the Federal Reserve, a bit of Jacksonian populism that might play well in parts of the left.  Again, though, a modest and limited set of projects for government.

Jay Rosen suggests that observers might want to get past the idea that "governing" is the same thing as "passing legislation."
Asserted as a fact of political life, “Republicans must show they can govern” is a failure of imagination, and a sentimentalism. It refuses to grapple with other equally plausible possibilities. For example: that declining to govern will produce so much confusion about lines of responsibility and alienation from a broken political system that voters can’t, won’t, or in any case don’t “punish” the people who went for obstruction.
Perhaps the voters who voted were not in favor of Doing Anything More, and at least some of the eligible voters who didn't vote didn't see that What Was Done worked.  If What Was Done had more than a little rent-seeking in it, all the better.

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