Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Recipe To Save The GOP Part One: Distributism

Much is being said about the poor long-term demographic prospects of the Republican Party. I've done some thinking about that and here are some ideas I've got to retool the GOP for the long run. I'll dedicate this post to economics and a later post to social issues.

Firstly, I've heard it said that millennials (my generation) will be voting against George W. Bush the rest of their lives due to the Great Recession and other issues. As the Boomers die off, real or perceived fealty to the big banks whose reckless financial practices helped cause the recession must be avoided.

But how to do this without betraying property rights, capitalism, etc? Well, here's a solution that people might not have thought about.

Distributism. And there are ways to implement it without an excessively activist state. Back when "too big to fail" was the mantra people who supported bailing out the banks and auto companies cited, someone else pointed out that too big to fail was also too big to exist. There was an opportunity there to avoid "too big to fail" in the future by requiring any entity accepting federal bailout funds to spin off parts of their operations into smaller companies. Although one ought to keep economies of scale in mind (that's a big flaw in the distributist economic model), many companies spin off on their own already. Obviously this opportunity has passed, but should there ever be a perceived need for another bailout (and there might), it should come with strings that ensure that "too big to fail" is no longer a problem. The GOP can also oppose corporate welfare like farm subsidies, which are used by agribusinesses to buy out smaller competitors. In this case, one can oppose "bigness" by simply being fiscal conservative rather than being particularly activist.

I proposed this as a solution to the GOP's demographic woes on my alternate history Internet forum and someone suggested that without a commitment to help people on the bottom end of the economic totem pole, this is just "Libertarianism lite" and would be "hollow" rather than true distributism. If we want to go with conservative ideas on hands-up, not hand-outs, education and infrastructure are two ways to deal with it.

For starters, the cost of attending college has risen drastically over the last few decades, with a big jump recently fueled by state-level budget cuts brought on by the recession. It was once possible to make enough money doing summer jobs to pay for college, but this is increasingly more difficult now. And good educational systems breed economic success--Silicon Valley exists in a large degree due to the University System of California's presence in the area, while a strong university system propelled California's historic prosperity. Meanwhile, according to a U.S. Congressman I saw speak once, foreign companies don't bring jobs to America because of lack of worker skills, not overly high wages. Improving the technical college system will bring blue-collar type jobs back to America, providing prospects for the majority of people who don't go to college.

As a reporter for The Griffin Daily News, I observed that in order to attract businesses, the local government agreed to refurbish a rail line. Many of the local VIPs were in favor of the TSPLOST to improve infrastructure as well. Working as a journalist later on the North Side, I saw a lot of this as well. Infrastructure is already to a large degree a government responsibility, so a stronger focus on infrastructure would not be expanding the scope of government. And if infrastructure is good for business, that means jobs for people and thus less need for handouts. There is a fine line between this sort of thing and the corporate welfare I've decried above, so one must be careful.

Adopting a distributist economic model, which is based on Catholic teachings, could help the GOP appeal to the growing (largely Catholic) Hispanic demographic, which also tends to favor a larger government. It will also appeal to the Occupy types and Tea Partiers opposed to things like bailouts. An emphasis on small business could appeal to immigrant small business owners that in some places pretty much are the bourgeoisie and who are in danger of being turned off by perceived nativism in the GOP. Finally, since it's a Christian ideology, many in the Religious Right might be open to it, especially younger evangelicals concerned about "social justice" or supporters of Mike Huckabee, who was more interventionist on economic issues and more overtly concerned about the poor than many of his Republican peers. A campaign to revamp America's failing infrastructure would, so long as the improvement program exists, generate more blue-collar jobs and hopefully bring those works over to the Republican fold. It will also benefit companies that might oppose a distributist "anti-bigness" program by providing them government contracts. Spending more money on education will hopefully mitigate the opposition to the GOP among the well-educated, something Rick Santorum hasn't been helpful with.

Furthermore, this is something squarely in line with Republican tradition. Teddy Roosevelt was not a fan of the monopolistic trusts of his era, which were prone to engaging in legitimate abuses.

Although I imagine people might think I'm suggesting selling out Republican principles to buy votes of various demographics, none of these ideas are anti-conservative. Many of them, like opposition to corporate welfare, align with traditional fiscal conservative principles, while improving existing infrastructure simply means the government is taking responsibility for something that has historically been its responsibility.

Obviously all these things will have to be paid for. The only idea I've got to pay for them at the federal level (as opposed to local stuff like not handing out property tax exemptions too readily) off the top of my head are cuts in farm subsidies and other sorts of corporate welfare and in defense, which are coming anyway as the public turns away from an active foreign policy as a result of the Iraq and Afghan Wars. I'll write more on this later.

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