I voted this morning in the mid-term elections. Did you? I am nonetheless a frustrated citizen who is deeply worried about the future of my city, my state, and my country. And while I am deeply disappointed in the Dems' ability to translate progressive ideas in to working legislation and change, I am even more deeply disappointed in the loss of a moderate GOP voice and the way most of the GOP candidates embrace the corporatist agenda.
While I understand and even empathize with some of the anger and frustration expressed by the Tea Party groups, I am very worried about their impact on this election in light of their apparent lack of comprehension about the essential problems facing us and their failure to understand that it was the four decades of Reagan-inspired policies of deregulation, militarization, privatization and tax cuts that got us deep into these problems culminating in the Great Recession of the Bush Administration and the too-lax TARP bailout provisions for banks. (The bank bailout was, I believe, necessary by that point, but it could have been handled--as I argued at the time--by methods that would have exacted a much higher price from bank managers and shareholders, without the Paulson-originated, bank-friendly provisions that allowed bankers to retain (privatize) their gains while casting on us (socializing) their losses.)
The Tea Partiers, in other words, have muddled ideas that forecast wrong-headed policies on taxes, finances, income inequality, the role of unions in protecting the U.S. middle class, and the role of the big multi-national corporations in influencing government to favor their own businesses and the rich who own or manage them (via lobbying and especially since the Supreme Court's Citizens United case, via the use of huge sums of money to influence elections and essentially buy legislation made to order). The Tea Party groups in particular misinterpret the corporatist agenda that pits large corporations and their wealthy managers and shareholders against the vast majority of hard-working, middle class Americans and that casts unions (in spite of their undeniable flaws and failures) almost as evildoers, rather than what they actually are--the only successful means that the middle class has to create a level playing field so that workers can get their fair share of productivity gains mostly produced by them. Further, the Tea Party groups seem incapable of recognizing that their visibility and influence is being bought by those very powers that consistently work to suppress middle class gains--the anti-tax, anti-union, pro- "free market" purported think tanks and lobbyists and wealthy businessmen and the right-wing media empires of huge corporations such as the Sinclair stations, the Murdoch media empire (Wall Street Journal, Fox News, etc.)-- such as the Koch brothers and Dick Armey's so-called Freedom Works.
"Free market" is in quotes because there is no such thing as an absolutely free market: to the extent that we shift the balance too far towards business "freedom" and too far away from consumer--and environment--protecting restraints, we take away everyone's freedom to live decent lifestyles in a sustainable economy within a sound environment. Markets are wonderful, but the ability of businesses to compete "freely" in fact requires a number of restraining and opposing influences to avoid the inevitable development of self-perpetuating monopolies and oligarchies from asymmetries of information combined with the natural biases and follies of humans (including the corruption from money and power, the self-interested actions that can cause significant detriment to others from sheer greed), not to mention the vulnerability of ordinary people left to suffer from the brute-force harms of such "free" markets. Government regulation/remedies (administrative and judicial) and worker unions are two necessary restraints on unbridled corporatism.
So let's hypothesize that many of the right-leaning GOP and Tea Party candidates are elected. Here's my prediction of the policies that will be pushed by this right-wing coalition.
- Taxes: likely passage of various bills reducing corporate taxes either temporarily or permanently, including 100% expensing, repeat of the 2004 almost tax-free repatriation of foreign profits, further extension of tax-free restructuring provisions (the Bush Treasury through regulations practically gave away the store, and there appears to be a wholesale commitment to continuing the rush to make gain recognition as a part of a tax-free reorg a thing of the past, and make loss recognition as a part of a tax-free reorg a thing of the present); likely attempt to make the Bush tax cuts permanent for everyone including the wealthiest amongst us or at least to extend them for another 2 years until the 2012 election possibly restores a GOP president to make them permanent; likely renewed attempt to repeal or sharply reduce the estate tax that even in its pre-Bush form was paid by a tiny minority of estates each year and paid at a very low effective tax rate by many of those few that paid it; discussion of tax cuts by the GOP/Tea Partiers won't address the role these cuts play in creating deficits or in reinforcing a harmful level of income inequality that threatens the very heart of democratic governance. We definitely won't get legislation cutting the carried interest entitlement out of a right-dominated Congress--the capital gains and deferral advantages that private equity and hedge fund managers glean through their interpretation of the partnership rules for "profits-only" interests would be allowed to continue, generating multi-million dollar low-taxed income and encouraging a continuing distortion of the allocation of endeavor towards this high-income, low-tax-producing work and away from other endeavors that would be better for the economy (such as engineering rather than financial engineering, etc.). In other words, we can expect a resurgence of the many-times-now-proven-wrong-"freshwater"-economic-free-marketarian and Laffer-style budget and tax ideas, carried out even more extremely!
- Dodd-Frank financial institution regulation: attempt to undo or deeply eviscerate many of the protections for the financial system disliked by the Big Banks, particularly the (limited) ban on proprietary trading, potential for naked credit default regulation, and the existence and powers of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency (which is the primary part of the bill that addresses the way that big banks use their clout to collect from customers at every opportunity while making it enormously hard for customers to fight back when they are treated unfairly by the banks)
- Social Security: drive to dismantle post-war protections for the poor and elderly, through partial or whole privatization and reduction of benefits; use of the worries about the deficit as the power for wielding the ax cutting old age security benefits (in spite of refusal to forego any of the Bush tax cuts which will cost $5 trillion over ten years, if extended). Job creation will be touted as a rationale for most of this, though it is a very unlikely outcome. (There will be no further stimulus package of public infrastructure spending which would have a decent chance of saving, creating jobs.)
- Health care: drive to dismantle the progress made towards a fairer health insurance system out of a distorted understanding of the way that non-insured individuals require insured individuals to cover their expenses and a failure to comprehend the way that health insurance companies benefit from the ability to arbitrage 50 states' rules to select those that serve them best and serve ordinary Americans least
- Environmental and Global Warming Efforts: drive to dismantle anything already done to address the significant harms from global warming and environmental pollution (including toxic chemicals in our land, air and waterways); attempt to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling; attempt to give all the rest of the US reserves to the oil companies along with even more tax cuts for the natural resources extractive industry (which will be touted as "incentives" for development); attempt to peel back protections for endangered species, particularly wolves and small creatures whose protections are seen by the right as "threatening" lucrative developments in wilderness settings; attempt to ensure that the National Forest Service serves the forestry industry with even more roads and cheap sales, rather than putting forest and wilderness protection goals above commercialization/privatization of the national forests
- Gun laws: attempt to peel back gun registration provisions--moving even closer to the absurd "wild west" model apparently sponsored by activist right-wingers on the Supreme Court providing for open carrying of handguns in bars, coffee shops, stores and public meeting places
- Unions/public employees: attempt to ensure that the corporatist agenda succeeds in the workplace by continuing the process of distorting American's views of the role of unions in protecting workers from corporatist power and by weakening even further American workers' ability to organize and by giving employers even more "rights" in the context of a union drive; in particular, at the state level we can expect drives to cut public employee pension benefits and cut state funding of pension plans, and at the national level we can anticipate continued demonization of federal employees as lazy bureaucrats protected by public employee unions from merited discipline and firing
- Elections: refusal to pass laws forcing full disclosure of all corporate donations related to elections on the corporations' financial statements, SEC filings and on publicly available filings of all 501/527 organizations receiving corporate donations; refusal to write disclosure rules forcing public information regarding major individual or other noncorporate donors to organizations engaged in election campaigning
- Military/war: little or no commitment to removing the impediments for gay servicemen and women;no commitment to cutting military expenditures and even likely some support for pushing the Pentagon to continue with expenditures that it has already determined are inappropriate and wasteful; little commitment to pushing for a pull-back from foreign invasions/occupations and even possible push for renewed "surges" in Afghanistan; likely commitment to increasing military support for Israel in spite of its continuing violation of international law on colonization of occupied territories; likely push for aggressive response to Iran, including warmongering
Worth noting: if the election results in the GOP controlling the House and the Dems the Senate (and presidency, of course), we will likely have gridlock. The GOP agenda won't be likely to be enacted because of that gridlock. Accordingly, everything above is in terms of where their attempts, commitments will be, not what they will succeed in doing. But what will they actually do? Mark Thoma, Economist's View, Gridlock? Not in Politics (Nov. 2, 2010), speculates that they will "take advantage of this by introducing legislation they know won't pass but scores political points by forcing Democrats to vote against it...then use the noise machine to talk about how terrible this is for America. We'll see Tax Cuts for Working Americans (where you give a few pennies to the masses, much, much more to the upper echelon, then, since there are so many people getting small breaks, claim that the majority of the tax cuts go to the middle and lower classes), the Deregulation of Apple Pie Act (which somehow turns into an attack on the FDA, financial regulation, etc., etc.,), we'll see poison pills attached to legislation that must be passed to operate government...." Thoma also castigates the Dems (appropriately, I think) for failing to "take its arguments to the public and convince them that they were, in fact, fighting for their interests. ... Instead, they allowed the other side to take the initiative and demagogue the policies without much of a challenge." When will the Dems ever learn?