Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Solon’s fiscal cliff solution - or- something you will never see

This poll released by the WaPo for some reason made me think of Solon. Why? Well, the result of this poll and the November election has made it pretty clear that, at least at the national level, the Republican party is in a bit of a no-win situation when it comes to public perception. So, it looks like it doesn't have any options when it comes to figuring out how to turn that tide.  So, naturally, I thought of Solon the Athenian.  Naturally. You'll see. Hopefully.

Read on.

A Memo:

From: Republican politicians,

To: My Fellow Americans

In light of recent polling data we have a proposal. 

It is clear from recent public opinion polling, such as this latest from the WaPo, that there is no public will to enact meaningful spending cuts as a part of any deal to avert a future fiscal crisis (be it the so called “cliff” or some other crisis in the future).

It is also clear that there is no will to address entitlement spending through reforms to Social Security Medicaid and Medicare.

You, the public also have no desire to cut defense spending.

However, there is public will to enact tax rate increases on some portion of the populace, and eliminate some yet to be determined set of deductions and other so called “loopholes” all of which actions are intended to increase revenue.

That much is very clear. However, there are some things we cannot tell from this data:

We cannot tell whether or not you the public believe deficit spending and national debt are problems to be dealt with, or if you instead believe they are not problems, and borrowing and printing of money should go on, with spending continuing at today’s levels (or higher).

Nor can we tell, on the first horn above, whether you think the problem of national debt can be met merely with revenue enhancements, or with some admixture of this with borrowing and printing.

All we do know is that you don’t want to cut the spending, and you do want to increase the tax burden for citizens above some as yet to be clearly defined income level.

Now, looking at the other hand, there are some things we can tell from this same data:

It is abundantly clear that we, the Republican Party, are viewed very negatively, and that the party will be held primarily to blame by the public for any fiscal crisis that may occur.

In the nearer term, we will be held primarily to blame if no “fiscal cliff” deal is crafted.

It is also clear that, if crisis is averted, the President and Democrats will reap the credit for the improvement.

As well, if, in the near term, some deal is struck, we will not get primary credit for that, but will be perceived by you as having been beat by the President and the Democrats.

In short: We can see, by the data of this poll and others, that Republicans will receive little or no credit for a “fiscal cliff” deal, nor for a general economic improvement, nor for an improvement in the debt/deficit situation.

In any case you will perceive us as having failed in our attempts to prevent the measures that led to the improvement.

You will see us as having failed in what you believe to be our true mission; to protect the rich, or our cronies, or some such group of nefarious n’er do wells.

So, it is very clear, to use the cliche, that we are damned if we do fight for our principles and damned if we do not.

So, we propose to you, that we deliver precisely what the polling data indicates you want. We will stand aside in the next Congress and let you and the Democrats do as you will, but only on two conditions. These conditions have nothing to do with incorporating anything that we think is wise. In fact, quite the opposite is the case.

Sounds incredible? What are the conditions? Hear us out:

Now, we cannot in good conscience actively craft and vote for things we are in fundamental disagreement with, but we have decided that it is less morally dubious to step aside in committee and floor votes, voting “present” as it were. We will still criticize Democrat plans and detail proposals we think wiser. However, when it comes to voting, we will step aside and let you, through the President and the Democrats do precisely what you apparently want with regard to all of this fiscal business.

What is more, realizing that it is wise, with any sweeping policy change, to give it time to have its effects, so as to better evaluate its efficacy, we will not only step aside, but stay on the voting sidelines for a period of ten years.  That brings us to the first condition of our proposal:

We will step aside, and Democrats must enact all of the reforms you favor at once in one package during the 2013-14 Congress, promising to refrain from fiddling with that package for the ensuing 10 year period. We must treat this as a carefully controlled scientific experiment.  

Call this proposal of ours the ‘Solon proposal.’ Solon, you may remember, was an ancient Athenian reformer who promised something similar. He promised that if his economic and political reforms were enacted and kept in place for a period of 10 years, he would travel, and stay well away from Athens, in order to give the public the best opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of his changes. The Athenian assembly had to promise to live by the 10 year deal, not changing the legislation. It is true that the Athenians did not live up to their end of that promise. It is also true that Solon believed his reforms were wise and good, while we think the measures you favor are neither, but we do believe, as Solon did, that you, the American public, should be given the full opportunity to enact, without our interference, your considered (or ill-considered) fiscal policy.

You and the Democrats must promise to enact it as a whole and live by it for 10 years. The package should not, in any way, incorporate things we Republicans may have advocated, nor at any time during that 10 year period, should you pressure them to change it in such ways. Obviously, they cannot change it during that 10 year period either. We too, must promise to stay on the sidelines when it comes to votes in committees or on the floor, as the legislation is crafted, even if we do continue to voice our criticisms in deliberations. You must stay fully within the spirit of your philosophy for 10 years. We must desist from interference for 10 years.

Why a 10 year period? That should be a window lengthy enough to allow any alleged aftereffects of the Bush administration to fully peter out. We want to assure that any and all observable features of the economy at that future time are due only to the enacted package of reforms you desire.  If you do not think 10 years will be sufficient for that purpose, we’ll propose 20.  2023 or 2033. Enact. No meddling for the time period. That’s the deal.

After that 10 to 20 year period, we Republicans will recommence voting. Obviously, if you turn out to have been correct all along, we will have, by then, been properly chastened and seen the light. (This will especially be true if the period is 20 years.)  Just as obviously, if you turn out to have been incorrect all along, then hopefully, you will have seen the light. In either case, we will have run a carefully controlled economic experiment (or at least something nearer that ideal than has happened in the past).

In either case, we will have the best available opportunity to gage the wisdom and efficacy of the fiscal philosophy you, the American electorate seem to endorse, and you will have the best opportunity in history to eliminate the nefarious effects of our party upon the body economic and politic.

That’s a win-win situation for you, isn’t it?

Are you game?