Thursday, April 16, 2015

My "Save the GOP" Reading List

Last year I wrote a few thousand words on a political book tentatively entitled A Republican Party That Can Win California. I discussed some of the issues and themes I would touch upon in earlier blog posts on topics like the economic philosophy of distributism, ways conservative-leaning organizations like the National Rifle Association and the Boy Scouts can make themselves useful, and avoiding over-reliance on the Christian Right and religious politics generally.

I'm not sure if this book is going anywhere even though I've written several thousand words on it. I'm more interested in writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror than in being a policy wonk, even though I'd be darn good at the latter. If we're going to go with comparative advantage, I'd be better off focusing on my fictional pursuits.

But on the other hand, I do enjoy reading all these political books. So here are some of the books I've mentioned in previous blog posts and the lessons I've drawn from them.

Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution-One of the biggies I've learned from this is that many polluting industries are government-subsidized. If you want more of something, subsidize it, and pollution is something we really don't want. So abolish or drastically limit subsidies to oil, gas, etc. so that their "real" cost impacts the market. This doesn't even necessarily mean imposing unpopular new taxes, if cutting subsidies alone can do the job (and save the deficit-wracked government money too).

Unleashing the Second American Century-This puts a damper on a lot of the gloom-and-doom scenarios about America's future. Yes, this country has problems that need to be solved and sitting around chanting, "We're number one" when in fact we are not isn't going to solve them. However, optimism and a sunny outlook are a good way to win elections (see Ronald Reagan) and there are great strengths in this country, great strengths that proper policies can leverage. For example, spending money on science and research is a worthy investment in terms of productivity, jobs, attracting and sustaining vital industries, etc.

Foreign Policy Begins at Home-Author Richard Haass points out that many potential great-power competitors to the United States are suffering from various long-term problems (for example, until very recently Russia's population was declining), so the United States can safely focus on fixing internal problems without risking a rival state getting in too strong a position. It was probably from this book that I found the idea of stapling a green card on every foreign-born graduate of a U.S. college, a policy supported by none other than 2012 Republican candidate Mitt Romney.

The Second Machine Age-This had a lot of interesting ideas. For starters, it points out that technology is going to increasingly automate any job that could be considered "routine." This will have many consequences, including worsening prospects for those who are less skilled. As far as policy implications are concerned, the authors have several based on the idea that one taxes what one wishes to discourage and subsidizes what one wishes to encourage. A negative income tax--first proposed by Richard Nixon and supported by people like Milton Friedman--would ensure that consumption levels are kept up while avoiding the welfare trap. The U.S. already has the earned-income tax credit, which is kinda-sorta one. Meanwhile, there's a Pigovian tax scheme could be used to discourage pollution.

Whistling Past Dixie-This book makes the argument that the Democratic Party can win national elections without the South, including the counterfactual that if the Democrats had spent the resources they'd plowed into South Carolina in Ohio, they'd have won in 2004. The lesson for Republicans is they can't rely on just one region or cultural grouping for victory. Furthermore, given the demographic problems the Republican Party is predicted to have, not trying to bring more people into the tent risks bringing this scenario to pass.

Day of Empire-The book's thesis is that states that are more tolerant of differing ethnicities, religions, etc. tend to be do better economically. Some anecdotal bits include the Spanish expelling Jews and the Ottomans taking them in and thus benefiting from their skills and trading connections and the Nazis kicking out their Jewish scientists, who proceeded to come to America and build the atomic bomb. As far as American politics are concerned, Chua cites instances where so many talented people were abandoning their European homelands for the new United States that European governments attempted to forcibly stop them. If the U.S. had a more open immigration policy, we could continue our time-honored tradition of creaming off other countries' talented people.

The Devil in Dover-Opponents of the theory of evolution are, to be perfectly blunt, a political albatross and potentially dangerous to U.S. science education, which is going to be more and more important in an age of automation.

Game Change-It's been a very long time since I've read the book, but I do remember stuff Republicans can learn from. For starters, the choice of Sarah Palin to be John McCain's running mate. Whatever this might have done to get social conservatives on-board, it was a net loss elsewhere, especially given McCain's advanced age and health problems. The shenanigans on the Democratic side of the aisle can be an object lesson on what not to do--John Edwards' narcissism and refusal to listen to his aides' concerns about his affair, for example. And even remarks not intended to be mean can come off as such--see Harry Reid's comments about Obama.

Double Down-Some examples of what not to do, including the failure of Jon Huntsman--the candidate I supported--to campaign worth a rip. Huntsman was a major missed opportunity for the Republicans that year due to his various qualifications, but he failed to seize it. The fact "the base" would likely to be hostile to him wouldn't have helped things, but the fact he apparently believed it was beneath his dignity to ask people for money or criticize his opponents and his unwillingness to use his family money (when combined with the first issue) was all on him. Rick Perry's campaign collapsing due to some of the strange things he said while on painkillers after surgery is another lesson to learn from.

Pillar to the Sky-Yes, this is fiction, but it's very plausible, science-focused science fiction on how beneficial a space elevator can be. Not only would it make getting things into orbit significantly cheaper and easier, but running solar panels up the entire length of the elevator would make it a massive energy generator. If even a small tax percentage-wise were imposed on the energy generated from such a structure, it would make the government holding jurisdiction incredibly rich and allow for cutting other taxes, investment in worthy projects, etc. This also ties in with my blog post about a "space-industrial complex" to reorient the present military-industrial complex to cheaper, more long-term constructive ends without the political fighting and economic problems that outright axing it would cause.

There're also a lot of newspaper articles, blog posts, etc. that went into the project, but if I listed all of them, this blog post would get entirely too long.

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