Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Wyoming in an Egalitarian America

I have explained how Wyoming, from an economic viewpoint, is not at all the liberty-minded state we often portray it to be. However, the current economic crisis in our state is a golden opportunity for us to advance economic freedom, downsize government and give traditional free-market forces a prominent role in shaping the future of our state. 

There are, of course, pressing fiscal reasons to do this, with the state's runaway deficit at the forefront. But there is also a more long-term perspective on our state's future that we need to take into account.
This perspective has to do with a shift in federal economic policy in a more statist direction; despite the election of Donald Trump for president, and despite the Republican majority in Congress, there has been no change in America's slow, long-term slide into egalitarianism.

On the contrary, this trend has actually picked up some steam. There are two signs of this: a shift to the left in the Democrat party, and the growing support for a new entitlement program that, when fully developed, could become bigger than Social Security. Both of these changes constitute an advancement of welfare-statist ideas at the national level; if we do not want those ideas to overwhelm us here in Wyoming, we can actually decide to do everything constitutionally possible at the state level to secure our state as base camp for economic freedom in America. 

Living in a federation, we are in the remarkably fortunate to enjoy a large degree of self governance here in Wyoming. As Washington continues to move left, we can - and should - use our constitutional independence to create a positive, productive and prosperous counter-example.

If we don't, we will simply add another big-government layer to the welfare statism that is so pervasive in the nation's capital. If we punt, the slow but steady expansion of that same welfare statism will leave us little opportunity in the future to preserve the values and the policies associated with economic freedom. 

And expanding it is, welfare statism. Consider, for example, the transformation of the Democrat party - which, in all likelihood, sooner or later will gain Congressional majorities - into an even more statist direction than it has taken thus far. 

Here in Wyoming, the Democrat party has moved to the left. With "Berniecrats" taking over, we can expect the minority party in our state to become even more committed to egalitarian policies. But their left turn is basically just a reflection of a national trend: Tom Perez, the new chairman of the DNC, has been characterized as "another extreme leftist lawyer". In fact, back in February, the Investors Business Daily summarized the changes in the Democrat party in blunt words:
Moderates are purged, conservative Democrats are nonexistent, and the party's leaders seem intent on turning it into a party of hard socialism as quickly as possible. No, this is not your father's Democratic Party. Indeed, none of the Donkey Party's more famous standard-bearers of the recent past would be comfortable in the new Democratic Party. Not JFK. Not Jimmy Carter. Heck, even Bill Clinton, a moderate-progressive president who actually reached out to the opposing party to get things done, looks plainly uncomfortable among this generation of hyper-ideological party leaders.
This left turn, lamented by Governor Jim Webb, a former Democrat presidential candidate, is apparently being driven by a combination of electoral tactics and hard ideology. Explains Steve Phillips, senior fellow at the "Clinton White House in Exile", also known as Center for American Progress:
Hundreds of articles have been written about the imperative of attracting more support from white working-class voters who supported Barack Obama in 2012 but then bolted to back Donald J. Trump. The far more important — and largely untold — story of the election is that more Obama voters defected to third- and fourth-party candidates than the number who supported Mr. Trump. That is the white flight that should most concern the next D.N.C. chairman, because those voters make up a more promising way to reclaim the White House. The way to win them back is by being more progressive, not less.
As if to reinforce the radicalization of the party, the new DNC chairman is going on a multi-state tour with Senator Sanders (I-VT) later this month

From an economic viewpoint the Democrat party's left turn is troubling because it means they will reinforce their demands for further expansion of the welfare state. As I explain in my new book "The Rise of Big Government: How Egalitarianism Conquered America" (forthcoming later this year on Routledge), our welfare state is deeply rooted in the Scandinavian egalitarian ideological tradition. As such, it has an inherent tendency of growing until it is "complete" in all its aspects. 

We do not yet have a complete Scandinavian welfare state here, but the difference is smaller than most Americans realize. All that remains for the egalitarian movement to accomplish are: 
  • Single payer health care (the Affordable Care Act cleared half the distance);
  • Universal child care (the Swedish version of which means that the national government provides daycare where your 2-5-year old children are cared for and educated under a centralized, national curriculum); and
  • General income security, also known as Paid Family Leave.
With the failure of Congressional Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, we are yet one step closer to single-payer health care. Of the two remaining entitlement programs, paid family leave is making steady progress in Congressional circles. For at least four years now, Senator Gillibrand (D-NY) has been the lead sponsor of the FAMILY Act, which is short for Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act; she recently re-introduced this bill, which is on the books as S.337; overall support seems to have grown significantly.

This bill would guarantee tax-paid checks be written to every American who is home from work to care for a newborn or adopted child, or for one's own or a relative's serious medical condition. Every one of us who have an income would be allowed to be home from work for 12 weeks per year with 66 percent of our income covered by taxpayers. 

The maximum entitlement value of the FAMILY Act - or, in plain English, its highest possible cost to taxpayers - hovers around $1 trillion depending on the exact design of the paid-leave program.

Recently, the idea of a federal paid-leave program has caught on among conservatives. After having proposed tax credits to businesses offering paid leave, at least two conservative think tanks have now moved to proposing an entitlement program as an alternative to tax credits. The American Enterprise Institute and the American Action Forum have, in a series of blogs, strongly promoted an entitlement idea called Earned Income Leave Benefit. Developed by the American Action Forum, the EILB is basically a slimmed-down version of the FAMILY Act with a token gesture toward "fiscal responsibility". 

With support across the ideological dividing line - at least as it runs through the nation's capital - we can safely expect continued growth in the welfare state as designed and maintained by the federal government. This will increase the statist burden on our nation's economy - and on Wyoming. 

This, in turn, means that we have an even more compelling reason to pursue economic freedom and limited government here in Wyoming. We need to do everything we can here in the Cowboy State to make sure that we do not add insult to injury, but try instead to provide remedy for the macroeconomic harm being done by further expansion of the American, egalitarian welfare state. 

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