At some point soon, Republicans will be forced to develop a governing agenda built on something other than white paranoia, something with roots in real world problems and an emphasis on practical solutions. Hollow rhetoric that glorifies the rich while blaming our problems on “takers” is far too removed from reality to sustain scrutiny or support policy making.
We need alternatives. Those alternatives start with a fresh recognition of the most important problems our country faces and the manner in which traditional Republican values can best be applied toward solutions.
Some of those problems are described in more detail here. First, a newly dynamic global economy is radically increasing the rewards an ordinary worker can earn from knowledge-based work. However, it takes a long time for anyone to develop the skills to adapt to that highly dynamic market. Developing a prosperous, stable 21st century economic and political system means opening access to the knowledge economy to as wide a segment of the population as possible.
Second, employment as we have understood it for more than a century is no longer the only or even the most common way to earn a living. A policy environment which is wholly dependent on promoting employment amounts to spitting in the wind. The economy will not produce “jobs” in the traditional sense for everyone who needs to earn a living. Employment has ceased to be a mark of character or success.
Finally, the application of market values to nearly every aspect of our culture is corroding the institutions that support representative government. Our governing institutions are too bloated, too slow, and too unresponsive to meet basic needs in such a dynamic environment. Trying to sustain a bureaucracy-driven central mother-state is racking up costs that cannot be sustained.
By the same token, our private “social capital” institutions are withering. In an intensely market-driven economy, anyone who chooses financially sub-optimal values will be steadily shunted toward the cultural margins. Motherhood, church attendance, and volunteering for example, do not pay well. A pure market economy will steadily and relentlessly eliminate them from social relevance. Political involvement suffers from the same phenomenon. At the moment when we most need to transform our governing institutions, the political structure that supports them is deeply ill from neglect.
We do not have a problem with makers and takers. That’s a self-congratulatory line that allows the affluent to disengage from real problem-solving. Our challenge is a central state which has become too bulky to sustain politically, administratively, and financially.
We can remedy this problem while still preserving the network of social support that makes capitalism survivable. The problem is best addressed by reforming our core institutions to make them lighter, requiring less bureaucratic administration and shifting decisions farther into the personal realm.
Two simple reforms could protect the less fortunate and blunt the impact of market competition on social institutions while encouraging economic dynamism, thus forming the core of a next generation Republican agenda: a fully tax-funded, state-administered private insurance system and a minimum income. Together, these two innovations could end poverty as a political issue while radically reducing the size and scope of the federal government.
They would cost only slightly more in taxes, while reducing the cost most people pay for health insurance and social safety net taxes. And they would open the way for Republicans to begin addressing other reforms that could open up economic dynamism and opportunity for far more Americans than ever before.
The combination of a basic income and tax-supported private insurance would blunt the three main problems we face. It would weaken the power of central state by shrinking the bureaucracy for the first time in a century.
It would give workers breathing space at the beginning of a career, or during gaps in employment, providing a simple means to adapt to market changes. It would relieve pressure on families by supporting a spouse who wants to stay home to care for children. Finally, these reforms would blunt the pressure that is eroding public involvement in voluntary institutions, relieving the winner take all atmosphere is that so severely punishes individual decisions to invest in anything other than commercial activities.
With a stronger, more reliable safety net in place, Republicans would be freer politically to finally reform our tax system. We could flatten and simplify personal rates, eliminating most tax expenditures while bringing corporate rates more in line with global norms.
Republicans could begin to re-establish their influence among urban and minority voters by credibly tackling their most important priority, access to a quality public education. Breaking up the educational monopoly that traps urban students under a blanket of low expectations is the gateway to a new Republican urban agenda. Make urban public education credible again, and city life will be radically transformed, rewarding the party that accomplishes that feat for generations.
The social safety net is an expensive, bureaucratic mess, premised on the assumptions of a 20th century industrial economy that no longer exists. Republicans are right to see it as a target for reform.
However, until Republicans are ready to accept the fundamental importance of the social safety net, we will have no basis on which to rebuild our influence. Instead of working to destroy the safety net, we should make it leaner, smarter, and more effective, taking the entire question of poverty relief off the table while gutting the power and influence of the central state.
Strengthen families and traditional social institutions. Make it easier for a spouse to remain at home to raise kids. End welfare, food stamps and Medicaid once and for all. Remove the central government from its role in deciding, on a case by case basis, who is truly deserving of your tax money and who isn’t.
These are the goals that could free the Republican Party from its ugly quagmire and give it new energy. Don’t expect to the GOP embrace these ideas soon, but as white identity politics steadily loses its luster, this could be the agenda that lets the Republican Party find its feet again as the party of business, prosperity, and entrepreneurial spirit.