Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Politics Is The Art Of The Possible, Or Something

Ross Douthat recently wrote a long blog post in which he expressed frustration that liberals aren't freaking out over the fact that guaranteeing health care to more people  might allow them to quit jobs they would otherwise have to keep working in if they wanted their health care. Fair enough, we really aren't. But where I think the post goes off the rails is when Douthat starts complaining that in addition, liberals aren't willing to accept a big overhaul of the welfare state in general with the goal of turning the big basket of direct and indirect subsidies that the poor and working class get into just a few large targeted programs:

"But it means that we should think seriously about what else we should be doing, and whether we should be spending as much as Obamacare spends on insurance when there are other transfers that might not offer as many work disincentives, might give a stronger boost to upward mobility, and might do more long-term good."

As a liberal I don't necessarily disagree with this statement, although I would add to it that it might make even more sense to fund transfers that help the worse off not by solely cutting their less helpful transfers but by also cutting the subsidies and transfers we give to the middle class and wealthy in forms of mortgage deductions lower capital gains tax rates etc. as well.

But the problem I do have is that this sort of argument is that it's parameters and prescriptions just don't exist in our political reality at all, not because liberals are saying no to it, but because conservatives are still obsessed with magically taking us back to the health care system we had in 2009 when every thing was great, or something. If conservatives were actually willing to compromise with liberals, over things like short term economic stimulus in exchange for long term entitlement reform or whatever, Ross would have a point. But since they as a movement and the GOP as a party has consistently said "no, no, NO!" to any kind of compromise about basically anything, there really isn't much to discuss.

So yeah, I'm not opposed to a hypothetical idea like this in principle but it's a bit like wanting to solve the various political problems in HBO's Game of Thrones with a UN sponsored peace keeping force. It makes sense from an abstract argumentative standpoint, but it has no bearing on reality and thus is a pretty pointless political argument.

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