Politicians who advertise themselves as “fiscal conservatives” sometimes campaign on crowd-pleasing pledges to cut taxes and simultaneously reduce budget deficits. These are difficult promises to deliver on in practice, since the budget deficit equals government spending minus tax revenue.
Aspiring fiscal conservatives may be interested in learning four innovative tricks that are commonly used by American politicians who like to promise what seems impossible. Each of these feats has been perfected over three decades or more. Indeed they first acquired their colorful names in the early years of the Ronald Reagan presidency:
Every pundit agrees that President Obama did badly in the first debate. But I can’t help wondering whether he (and VP Joe Biden) would have been able to come out swinging as freely as they have in the subsequent debates, if it were not for what happened in Denver. Obama must have been afraid of sounding unpresidential. But because his initial performance was so roundly criticized for passivity, he was licensed after that to argue aggressively: “What you are saying is not true, Governor Romney.” And it helps that he was right, each time. (My morning-after talking-head comments can be viewed:“Re-cap of 1st Presidential Debate,” Oct.4; and “Re-cap” of 2nd Presidential Debate, Oct.17.)
Mitt Romney, presidential candidate, said in now-infamous comments that 47% of the American electorate is dependent on the federal government, that he will never be able to teach them to take personal responsibility for their lives, and that they are certain to vote for Barack Obama in November. He continues a tradition in his party that goes back at least three decades: building political campaigns around the proposition that folks in the heartland exhibit the American virtues of self sufficiency and personal responsibility and the implication that other, more urban, regions display decadent social values and dependency on government.
The Supreme Court today upheld the Affordable Care Act of 2010, otherwise known as Obamacare. Judging from the polls, American public opinion appears to be very sharply divided over the legislation. Some view it as socialism, others as the first success in a half-century of efforts to achieve a sensible national policy on health care.
What explains the wide divergence of views? An economists’ approach – cynical or naïve depending on how you look at it – would be to assume that citizens vote according to their own personal interests. Getting the uninsured onto paid insurance through the individual mandate is very much in some people’s interest, but not necessarily as strongly in others’ interests. Let’s take a look.