Will Wilkinson and Ramesh Ponnuru have both responded to recent articles Tim Carney have written trying to flesh out what the specifics of a libertarian populist agenda might look like. You can read Carney’s response to both critics here.
Both Wilkinson and Ponnuru have nothing but kind words for the actual policies identified by Tim and me, but, as Ponnuru writes and Wilksinson quotes him, “Taken together, though, they do not seem to amount to a winning political platform.”
Tim makes a strong case for how eliminating the Export-Import Bank (an issue made light of by both Ponnuru and Wilkinson) could be tied into a larger effort to rebrand the Republican Party as something other than party of rich. I think he makes a strong case.
Ponnuru similarly says that “ending student loans and the mortgage deduction seem likely to be unpopular even at first glance.” Sure, if you frame it that way they do.
But what if you framed the issue differently. What if you explained that there is a government program that is miring the youngest and most ambitious Americans in debt at exactly the time it can hurt them the most? What if you told them that program did not, in fact, make advancement any more affordable, but instead just allowed higher education institutions drive up tuition costs? And what if you told them we could make college more affordable by ending the accreditation cartel and open up higher education to real competition?
And what if, instead of saying you wanted to eliminate the foundation of American home ownership, you said you wanted to end the biggest tax break used by the wealthiest Americans? This tax break could even be phased out in steps so that the richest Americans were hit first, and average Americans could see there tax burdens reduced up front. And did I mention that the Americans hit hardest by ending this special tax break would be ultra-liberal wealthy elites in New York, San Francisco, and Hollywood? You don’t think middle americans might find that policy attractive?
Are there are a bunch of successful politicians who have framed these issues in this way and found great success? No… Not yet. If it was easy it would have been done already.
But it is hard to look at Americans changing attitudes on the proper role of government and not conclude there is an opening for a brand of libertarian populism.
Since 1993, CNN has been asking Americans, “Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country’s problems. Which comes closer to your own view?”
Pew also recently concluded, that while “public assessments of the federal government’s role and performance have fluctuated over the past 25 years,” they “are currently at a low point on most measures.”
Pew also found that not only do a majority of swing voters agree with the statement that “government regulation of business does more harm than good,” but a majority of Republicans also agreed with the statement that there is “too much power in the hands of a few big companies.”
There is a growing, and accurate, belief in America that government and private sector elites are conspiring to use government power to capture as much of America’s wealth as possible. Some enterprising politician is going to find a way to tap into that sentiment successfully.