Expanding On Comments On Teabaggers

When I started using Twitter I was immediately very absorbed by the #tcot group and it’s more radical subset, #ocra. These are the arch-conservative types. Amusingly enough I always used to think myself pretty conservative, and by Canadian standards, for the most part I am. My views generally fall on the side of personal initiative, of free markets, and so on – but having studied economics with particular emphasis on public finance and healthcare being themes I enjoyed, I understand that there is a crucial role for governments to play in the economy, because markets are not perfect.

The study of economics pays close attention to these shortcomings of markets and studies how and why they work. Many of them are applicable to the issues brought out in US political debates raging now.

It seems among many American right wingers their ideal is a small, nearly non-existent government. The irony in my view is that they want this small government which will barely tax them, to do a lot of particularly expensive things. Like wage wars abroad against those they perceive to be enemies of America. In testament to this, consider their attitude toward Iran currently. Look also at their continued attempt to justify the invasion of Iraq whose cost was staggering, both in blood and treasure, for no discernable purpose except perhaps to line the pockets of the defence industry who are generally speaking in bed with politicians.

I could spin off on all sorts of tangents from here, about the basics of guns vs butter (an elementary economic study in tradeoffs), or about the rather ominous idea that all the kerfuffle about Iran, Israel, and the Middle East is rooted in the bizarre apocalyptic fantasies of religious nutcases in the US, but I’ll try to stay out of the weeds there.

The common theme amongst the disenfranchised right wingers, at least those on the internet, seems to be a perception that their country has been stolen from them by the current administration, whom they seem to want to blame for the current budget mess the US faces, the massive debt the US owns (which they rather aptly refer to as “generational theft”).  Of course, one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to realize that the current US administration in fact inherited the budget mess in large part from its predecessors, and more importantly, they don’t seem to have much to offer in terms of alternatives.

This has been illustrated to them numerous times.  One of the best examples I happened to hear the audio of on CNN – Rick Sanchez interviewing Judson Phillips, the fool in charge of the Tea Party nonsense in the States.  You can watch it here: http://vodpod.com/watch/2988674-tea-party-profiteer-downplays-bushs-fiscal-mess-before-throwing-him-under-the-bus–  If the link doesn’t work – Google what I did: “Rick Sanchez tea deficit” and choose the second link.  This is the kind of thing I observe from most of these conservative types – their vitriol is based on misinformation from the get-go, so it’s to be expected that their arguments are unsound.

(As an aside, while scouring YouTube for the clip, I found a lot of videos by the excellent Canadian band The Tea Party – one of my favourites)

In any case, I’ve tried to see the arguments that these folks are trying to make from their point of view.  So repeatedly, I ask them to identify what specifically their gripes are, and more importantly, how they see they can be addressed better.  To the date I’m typing this I’ve not seen anything particularly substantive.

The argument often starts with “returning to Constitutional government” or something like that.  Of course, that’s not an answer in itself, and leads to me asking for a specific example of how the current administration has deviated from the rules of the US Constitution (which I’ve read rather thoroughly, repeatedly, and read plenty on its interpretation), and I get nothing but vague comments about bailouts (well, TARP happened during Bush’s watch, and I don’t really see how any other option was possible), or more nonsense about healthcare reform that shows they don’t really have a clue.

The fact that seems undeniable is that there’s a racist undertone to the whole thing.  I’m not saying those who support the Tea Party “movement” are racists merely by virtue of supporting the movement, nor that the movement itself is outright racist, but there’s a lot of racist rhetoric coming from their “grassroots” movement that utterly discredits whatever it is they might otherwise be trying to say.  And it’s not as though there’s a plethora of minorities involved.

The other thing they keep talking about is taxation.  US taxes are already quite low, particularly given the size of the US budget and unfunded liabilities.  And more than that, I fail to see how tax cuts will get any real traction for the economy currently.  While it is reasonable and economically sound to state that lowering taxation will increase disposable income which should theoretically stimulate the economy by increasing consumption spending, there’s a good argument to be made that it has a low likelihood of working for two reasons: first – most of this disposable income is likely to go to dealing with the tremendous amount of household debt carried by Americans.  Paying off interest on credit cards isn’t stimulative.  Secondly, for those who aren’t drowning in debt, it seems that there’s been an increase in savings rates – perhaps it’s some manner of uncertainty about the economy (and perhaps it’s being fuelled by the shilling for gold that’s common on TV and radio in the US, particularly on right-leaning outlets), but it seems like savings rates in the US are rising.  (source:  (source: http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/data/PSAVERT ) Putting money in the bank is also not stimulative.   The jury seems to be out on whether the “stimulus checks” of 2008 accomplished any meaningful stimulus – I can find a myriad of sources arguing both sides – but I know that if someone sent me a cheque for $1000 or some other amount – I’d be using it to pay down my own debts, not to buy more stuff.

So the debate gets onto massive deficit spending that started before Obama took office.  In my view, Keynesian ideals about spending one’s way out of recession are logical and reason in certain cases – if the spending is investment in future competitiveness.  Spending money as Canada has on building roads and other infrastructure projects, on schools, hospitals, retraining, etc is good.  I’m not panicked about the deficit our government is running currently because it’s not structural in nature,  and the money is going to projects which generally are both necessary and will give a long-lasting economic benefit.

I haven’t really looked in detail at what the stimulus money has been going to in the US but it does seem like it’s controversial at the very least.  There’s an argument to be made there about accountability – but again, that in and of itself isn’t a good condemnation of the Obama administration, and without any sort of clear alternative presented, I always have to circle back to “what would you prefer to happen?”

No one has really answered that yet – and until they do – in a reasoned way, I’m going to have to dismiss them for the most part.

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