9.5.16

INSUFFICIENT SUFFERING?

The country needs institutional reform, argues Holman Jenkins in The Wall Street Journal.  Let's say that he's not ready to vote for one Donald J. Trump, although many among the Republicans might be making their peace with it.  First comes a variation on George Will's "Enough with the Cult."
There is a version of Trump fatalism growing among thinking Republicans. He’s a boor and unqualified to be president, but he would break the D.C. crockery at a time when the crockery needs breaking. They seem to think a Trump presidency would be able to attack the source of America’s economic malaise. But he has indicated no such thing.
Incomplete, or inconsistent, or incoherent policy specifics are the kind of thing the at-the-end-of-the-day-bipartisan-compromise crowd obsess over.  And yes, a coherent policy to deal with the economic malaise might be desirable, particularly if it's Cut Taxes.  Stop Picking Winners.  Deregulate.  But in the breaking of the crockery, perhaps the economic malaise isn't the root cause of troubles, it's the process worship.
Call it overregulation, call it crony capitalism, call it rent-seeking (as economists do). This is the deeper malignity that has pundits suddenly thumbing through books likeJoseph Tainter’s “The Collapse of Complex Societies,” Jonathan Rauch’s “Demosclerosis,” and Mancur Olson’s “The Rise and Decline of Nations.” And Mr. Trump is not the antidote—he’s the apotheosis of arbitrary government, with his extrajudicial threats against businesses that make competitive plant-location decisions, with his latest musing about stiffing owners of U.S. debt.

There is a second kind of Trump fatalism: Mr. Trump is everything his critics say and the chief executive the country needs, because a few years of President Trump would usefully demystify the presidency.

The next best thing to leaving the job unfilled, goes the thinking, is filling it with a reality-TV jester. He could spend four years dragging the White House press corps to photo ops at various Trump golf courses and hotels. He could embroil the entire government apparatus in “walking back” his unbon mots. He could sit for endless depositions spawned by his illegal attempts to impose the Trump agenda by decree. He could rail against a Congress that (as Mr. Ryan indicates) is likely to be uncooperative regardless of party.
The problem with that course of action, however, is that the various Cabinet Secretaries have the authority to issue regulations, and there are legions of Deputy Undersecretaries and Special Advisors and the rest of the nomenklatura whose salaries depend on being able to revise pages for the Federal Register. It's true, as Mr Jenkins notes, that there was a time when presidents, Congress, and the permanent government rolled back regulations.
Which brings us to a second scenario: Candidate Trump may be a nominee perfectly shaped by history to hand the White House and Congress to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. Then—not the least-interesting outcome—Democrats, with no room for excuses, will either fix America’s slow-growth malaise or finally discredit themselves with voters. In essence, 2016 will be a do-over for 2008, when the party gave America the wrong president at the wrong time.

By the way, twice in my lifetime—the Carter-era deregulations and the ’86 tax reform—our political system did somehow bring itself to take a big whack at rent-seeking. It can be done.
Perhaps so, but a Donald Trump who buys influence, or a Hillary Clinton who sells it, strike me as unpromising tribunes for a massive rollback of Business as Usual.  There's not enough sentiment, yet, for the kind of rollbacks of the rent seeking that followed the Long Recession after 1974.

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