It’s an Election, not a Revolution

That’s the title they gave my latest NYT column.  Excerpt:

To put it simply, the public this year will probably not vote itself
into a much better or even much different economic policy. To be sure,
the next president – whoever he or she may be – may well extend health
care coverage to more Americans. But most of the country’s economic
problems won’t be solved at the voting booth. It is already too late to
stop an economic downturn. Health care costs will keep rising, no
matter who becomes president or which party controls Congress. China is
now a bigger carbon polluter than the United States, so don’t expect a
tax or cap-and-trade rules to solve global warming,
even if American measures are very stringent – and they probably won’t
be, because higher home heating bills are not a vote winner. A
Democratic president may propose more spending on social services, but
most of the federal budget
is on automatic pilot. Furthermore, even if a Republican president
wanted to cut back on such mandates, the bulk of them are here to stay.

Yes, the election does matter. Even small differences on
economic issues affect millions of Americans. But the record of the
Bush administration should prove sobering to all those who expect the
American political economy to turn around in the next four years.

conservative and libertarian economists supported President Bush,
thinking they would be getting policy drawn from the work of Milton Friedman
and Martin Feldstein, two respected market-oriented economists.
Instead, in economics, the Bush years have brought an increase in
domestic government spending, and some poorly-thought-out privatization
plans. For all the talk of an extreme right-wing revolution, government
transfer programs like Social Security and Medicare have continued to grow. And despite big mistakes involving the Iraq war, Mr. Bush wasn’t punished by voters in 2004.

There is much more, and it is a more political column than I usually write.  My final conclusions:

And if you’re still worrying about how to vote, I have two pieces of
advice. First, spend your time studying foreign policy, where the
president has more direct power, and the choice of a candidate makes a
much bigger difference. Second, stop worrying and get back to work.

And there are points I could not cover for reasons of space, such as the constraining need to provide an AMT fix, or the ability of a party to sound more intelligent when it is out of power.

Addendum: Here is coverage from Mark Thoma and commentators; do they support or contradict Mark’s last sentence?  And here is commentary from John V.


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