Best Sentence I Read Today

by on October 16, 2008 at 3:37 pm in Uncategorized | Permalink

The Bush administration, having entered office as social conservatives, leaves
office as conservative socialists, proprietors of the most sudden large
expansion of the state’s role in the US economy since mobilisation for the
second world war.

Brad DeLong here.

1 Jeff Garzik October 16, 2008 at 3:46 pm

Technically, in 2000 Bush was marketed as a “compassionate conservative” β€” wink wink conservatism-lite nod nod β€” which had hard-line conservatives like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity grumbling. Definitely not a social conservative when he entered office.

Only in 2004 was Bush marketed as a hard-line social conservative, mainly because of Rove’s campaign strategy of “get out the base, and you can ignore the rest.”

2 Yancey Ward October 16, 2008 at 4:18 pm

Pretty clear in hindsight that Bush wasn’t conservative at any time during his presidency, and he led what was left of the 94 House and Senate over the cliff in an orgy of fiscal malpractice.

I am appalled at the prospect of Democrats being in complete control, but the Republicans brought this upon themselves.

The socialism of today is but a foretaste of what is coming over the next 4-8 years as the government wrestles with the burst credit bubble in utter futility.

3 J.A. Davis October 16, 2008 at 4:36 pm

I agree that it’s a nicely constructed sentence, but I do think the conclusion is a bit too cute. Yes, there was increased spending under Bush, but a good deal of it was a result of the new world after 9/11. The prescription drug benefit was a compromise with Democrats. The lesson, I suppose, is that Republicans will be castigated as heartless if they hold the line on spending, and accused of reckless spending if they compromise with Democrats. Does anyone really think that a Democrat President with a Democrat Congress is likely to spend less …

4 Jorge Landivar October 16, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Too true, too true. πŸ™

5 Johnny Nemo October 16, 2008 at 5:36 pm

Progressive bloggers predicted two years ago and more that conservatives would say “Baby Doc” Bush was not a real conservative. It’s an article of religious faith that conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed. It’s a neatly circular argument: if a conservative succeeds, it’s because of his conservatism; if he doesn’t succeed, it’s because he wasn’t a real conservative.

6 Steven Schmitt October 16, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Johnny Nemo – The same thing has been said by socialists (you call ’em progressives) about socialism’s failures. You can’t fairly complain when the Right takes a page from the Left’s play book.

Best regards.

7 Joshua Holmes October 16, 2008 at 6:02 pm

I disagree. Socialism requires either direct control by the workers or by the state led by an ostensible workers’ party. Neither is at work here. This is just good old-fashioned crony capitalism, and I’m increasingly led to believe that there is no other capitalism.

8 tommy October 16, 2008 at 7:56 pm

Progressive bloggers predicted two years ago and more that conservatives would say “Baby Doc” Bush was not a real conservative. It’s an article of religious faith that conservatism can never fail, it can only be failed.

Serious conservatives were saying eight years ago that Bush wasn’t a conservative and mocking his “compassionate conservatism.” The paleocon crowd has (rightfully) never trusted the guy.

It’s a neatly circular argument: if a conservative succeeds, it’s because of his conservatism; if he doesn’t succeed, it’s because he wasn’t a real conservative.

If Republicans balanced the budget, avoided wars to spread democratic ideals to those who don’t want them, and reduced the size and scope of the federal government, and then conservatives argued that the above agenda didn’t constitute real conservatism, then I would agree with you. However, Bush tried none of the above, just the opposite.

Leftists, on the other hand, have their own circularity: if we throw money at a problem and get fair results, we must throw even more money at the problem; if we throw money at a problem and get poor results, we must throw even more money at the problem. Education policy would be a classic example.

9 ogmb October 16, 2008 at 8:03 pm

If Dubya had suddenly turned into a Soviet-style socialist he wouldn’t have paid fat money for non-voting minority stakes. He would’ve seized the banks and put the CEOs in prison. Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound like such a bad idea…

10 hayekian October 16, 2008 at 8:26 pm

Indeed, there are plenty of decisions taken by the Bush government that must disturb us classical liberals and libertarian conservatives: Guantanamo (though it was originally created by the Clinton administration!), the Medicare prescription drug benefit, maybe even the Iraq war (though defense spending as a percentage of GDP went only slightly up from 3.5% in 2000 to 3.9% now, so even as a libertarian I recognize that it may be good value for money from a cost-benefit perspective).

But by and large, I’m quite delighted about the last two terms:

1. plenty of free trade agreements like CAFTA, Chile, Peru, and hopefully soon Colombia and South Korea (unless Obama and his Protectionist Party derail it)
2. school choice and school vouchers in Washington DC and even in limited form in No Child Left Behind (many libertarians may decry the expansion of federal power here, but as long as Washington injects elements of choice, competition, accountability, and responsiveness, I’m sort of ok with it)
3. Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito, two decent Strict Constructionists, who understand that our individual rights preexist government, rather than being grated by an omnipotent, benevolent government (we have just seen in the Heller gun-rights case what a difference a more libertarian court can make!)
4. several reforms of tort, litigation, liability law
5. several substantial tax cuts (though not always accompanied by the necessary spending cuts)
6. personal health savings accounts
7. partial birth abortion ban (yes, as a libertarian I do support the right of every human being to life, liberty, and pursuit to happiness, the right of every child to be born)
8. and the GOP at least started the debate about Social Security privatisation and personal retirement savings accounts which Obama and the Democrats denounced as “Social Darwinism” (I guess we have to hope for Bobby Jindal in 2012 or 2016 to finally follow through on Social Security privatisation).

Conclusion: Far from being “socialists”, from a classical liberal perspective this government rather deserves a B- or a C+.

11 Isaac Crawford October 16, 2008 at 10:07 pm

Is a conservative socialist the same as a fascist? The recent events reek of fascism, not socialism…

12 Cliff October 16, 2008 at 10:52 pm

Um, isn’t the debt over $10 trillion now?

13 albatross October 17, 2008 at 12:15 am


I assume you mean intragovernmental holdings–if we repudiated debt between governments, the financial chaos we’ve got now would suddenly look like heaven. But if we repudiated intragovernmental holdings, wouldn’t that just require increasing future spending by exactly the same amount? I mean, at some point, we’ve got Social Security checks to write, and we need money. If we have that in treasury notes, then we sell the treasury notes and use the cash to cover the checks. If they’ve all been wiped off the books, then we borrow the money to cover the checks by, ultimately, selling treasury notes.

Intuitively (I’m certainly no expert), it looks a lot more honest to consider those committed future expenditures as debt to ourselves than to wipe them off the books.

14 Jayson Virissimo October 17, 2008 at 4:53 am

“Is a conservative socialist the same as a fascist? The recent events reek of fascism, not socialism…”-Isaac Crawford

Yes. According to Hayek, Nazism (a variant of fascism) was a philosophical coalition between socialists and conservatives against liberalism.

15 meter October 17, 2008 at 9:30 am

A lot is made of what McCain voted for or what Obama voted for as Senators.

Those able to process the intracacies of how bills are composed and the process that must occur for a law to be enacted understand that such votes are almost never a binary decision. Does it come down to a yes/no vote? Ultimately yes. Is there a lot of “I hold my nose and vote for this because on balance it’s more beneficial than harmful”? – as Sarah Palin would say: “Youbetcha.” John McCain who supposedly is a champion pork-killer voted for the bailout even though it had an extra $110 billion “goodies” as he likes to call them.

Point being, I have a feeling that Obama as president will be more centrist than his prior voting record might indicate in the Senate.

16 the buggy professor October 17, 2008 at 8:54 pm

“Total outstanding U.S. government debt is indeed over the $10 trillion mark. But 40% of that is intergovernmental holdings; I suppose it could be repudiated at any time. The important part is the debt held by the public, which stands at just over $6 trillion as of yesterday.” —J



“I did mean intra-governmental, my mistake. The majority of it is social security and medicare, and I think the Federal employee retirement fund. The government could theoretically eliminate the debt by reducing scheduled payouts. Why then would spending have to increase to offset it? I’m not saying it ought to be done, or that it wouldn’t be painful, but it isn’t the same as not paying external debt.” — J


J and Albatross:

1) That’s a good brief exchange between you two, though note: for some odd reason, the US government — including Congress and the Administration and the Council of Economic Advisers — refer, mistakenly, to “inter-government” . . . which is, of course, confusing. (We do owe 57% of “public debt” — marketable Treasury securities — to foreigners . . . overwhelmingly the Japanese and Chinese governments and private buyers (around 41% of the total, followed by the UK about 10% of it).


2) In many ways, making sense of the distinction between “public debt” and “intra-governmental [US debt — largely owed to social security and medicare in the future) is reminiscent of the debate here at Marginal Revolution about “mark-to-market” accounting for troubled or toxic housing mortgages held in the financial system as opposed to some sort of discounted future value into some distant year . . . the aim being, it seemed to me as I said then, to make the huge mistakes of the managers of commercial banks, investment banks, brokerage firms, independent mortgage dealers, insurance companies, Fannie-Mae and Freddie-Mac, and hedge funds here and around the world — a huge chain of derivative creditors enshrouded in non-transparency and non-accountability (and leveraged to dangerous levels) — to make their colossal mistakes suddenly vanish.

As though, to put it bluntly, the balance sheets of these tottering or defunct financial enterprises — currently dreck-covered — would suddenly, overnight, thanks to different accounting rules used when the banks and others started the mortgage-racket with poor or non-existent credit-analysis and risk-management, make them look peachy-and-creamy to would be investors the next day.


3) What is strange is to see, it seems, libertarians or at least free-market-leaning posters here to buy this distinction between public and intra-government debt.

Especially since most regular posters at MR would have opposed strict regulatory rules and application to these CDOs and Credit-Swaps and Make-Believe Insurance-Commitments back in 2003 to 2005 . . . which, remember, is precisely what William Donaldson (the Bush-appointed SEC chairman wanted to do in 2004 and 2005, only to have Republican Congressmen and members of the White House yell for his head and force him to resign). His replacement? The egregious Chris Cox, a true-believer in self-regulating financial markets like our former Fed head, an Ayn Rand devotee, Alan Greenspan, also thought.

The rest is history as we know it.


4) I add, to make sure I don’t sound extravagantly partisan, that the Clinton administration — warned by some federal agencies about leverage derivative markets in the late 1990s — moved to slap down these federal regulators . . . Larry Summers at the Treasury and others convinced that financial geniuses who concocted these new financial instruments were — like Einstein and Bohr in physics — fully on top of things in the ways other normal mortals couldn’t possibly be, and so why would you let ordinary regulators think they could interfere with these mastermind and self-regulating financial innovations?

And so?
And so, to return to this issue of public as opposed to intragovernmental debt owed by the US government to Americans, foreigners (including foreign governments), and itself, why should we be reassured by the Heritage Foundation and the Bush Council of Economic Advisers that national debt is really below 40% of GDP in late 2008 — not 80% or so as the dumbo-public thinks — any more than using now an alternative, future-oriented accounting method would, lickety-split, surmount the existing global financial crisis by some slick revisions on the assets side of balance sheets?


5) One caveat. Only — ONLY — a credible, empirically sound policy proposal with a very good probability of being adopted by Congress and in a timely manner to reform social security over the next four decades would convince the most of us, I fear, that national debt hasn’t piled up remarkably fast and recklessly in the Reagan, Bush-Sr, and Bush-Jr years. Anybody willing to spell out what this proposal would be other than — even as European welfare-states are having to do — extending the age of full retirement-benefits in the next few decades.

(And in West Europe, with its aging population and active-workers/retirees ratios in the near future, the need for a fairly drastic extension of the retiree-age in the next 10 years looms much greater as an urgent matter than here in the US . . . where even our native-born population is more or less at replacement rate, never mind immigration inflows.)


Michael Gordon, AKA the buggy professor

17 Andrew October 18, 2008 at 9:49 am

It would be fun for an interviewer to ask Bush to define the Bush Doctrine.

I would classify the Bush administration as Dumbascists.

18 Wrimmeciree January 22, 2009 at 9:55 am

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