What Should The GOP Do About Jobs?

Michael Strain outlines a jobs agenda for the right. Among his many heterodox ideas:

Conservatives should … consider some creative reforms of the unemployment-insurance system. Giving unemployed workers a modest cash bonus when they secure employment has been shown to be effective in shortening the length of unemployment spells, and, if targeted at workers who have a high probability of exhausting benefits, it can actually save the taxpayers money in the long run. It seems implausible that a re-employment bonus would have a large effect on long-term unemployment, but evidence suggests that it would help in addressing shorter unemployment spells.

There is also some evidence that giving out lump-sum unemployment benefits may be preferable to the current system of weekly checks. Under traditional unemployment insurance, a worker forgoes his unemployment benefit by taking a job. Lump-sum unemployment insurance may be beneficial because it would mitigate the weekly-check system’s incentive to delay starting a job. With lump-sum unemployment benefits paid, say, every month rather than every week, a worker who got a job at the beginning of a pay period could take in both unemployment compensation and a paycheck for that month. If this gets workers off unemployment faster, then the program could save money over traditional unemployment insurance.

There’s a hell of a lot there worth pondering and thinking through. What’s thrilling about it is its final break with the 1970s and 1980s – and a creative response to the actual problems of today combined with the lessons of the last five years. Tomasky’s response:

I liked the essay and even agreed with a respectable percentage of what Strain had to say. But reading it was far more infuriating than reading something by a conservative and disagreeing with every syllable, because articles like Strain’s refuse to acknowledge, let alone try to grapple with, the central and indisputable fact that the contemporary Republican Party—his presumed vehicle for all this pro-jobs reform—has opposed many of these initiatives tooth and nail.

Yes, of course. But you have to start somewhere. These things take time and instead of pissing on writers thinking outside certain orthodoxies, why not encourage them? Pierce also dismisses the article, along with my recent post on the Pope and the GOP:

The problem, of course, is that not a single policy proposal in the piece has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing the House Of Representatives as that body is currently constituted.

That is because the House Republican caucus remains thoroughly wedded to the economic snake-oil introduced into the national bloodstream by the sainted Ronald Reagan in 1980. Until the Republicans abandon supply-side economics as the phantasmagoria it always has been, there is no hope for the kind of reform Strain seems to be advocating.

We can see the same self-annihilation in Andrew Sullivan’s little cock-a-doodle-doo regarding how the pope’s recent pronouncements on economic justice have discomfited the economic royalists for whom Reagan’s policies opened the door. … Who was it that nailed the Laffer Curve to the doors of the cathedral? It was Ronald Reagan — and, elsewhere, Maggie Thatcher — and I don’t recall any great howls of Papist outrage from Sullivan back then, when everything the pope condemns today was just winding into its political strength.

In 1979 and 1980, I was sixteen and seventeen. The top rate of tax in my country was close to 98 percent. The government owned almost every major industry. The economy was crippled by abuse of union power. A once-great country was reduced to something nearing Eastern Europe. I believed then and believe now that reforming that socialist over-reach (yes, in Britain it sure was socialist), reigniting entrepreneurialism, cutting taxes, and facing down the Soviet empire were all important advances in my home country and, to a lesser extent, in the US. But even in my early 20s, I opposed deficits and deficit spending – I was much more a Thatcherite than Reaganite. Indeed, Thatcher never bought the Laffer curve. But my broader point is that times and circumstances change. I don’t believe that FDR’s policies would have been appropriate in the 1950s, for example; I don’t think that the economic problems in 1980 are in any way comparable to the economic and social problems we face today.

Pierce, of course, needs no understanding of any particular set of circumstances, no grip on the contingent issues that emerge over time, no need to judge any specific situation to judge what might be the best set of options. For him, doctrinaire liberalism is the only option now, then and for ever (just as his foes on the ideological right see Reaganomics as some kind of eternal truth). I find that far more disturbing intellectually than the ability to absorb new data, new facts, and adjust to new policies. That’s what Levin and Ponnuru and Strain and Wehner and Gerson are doing. I wish them all the very best, and the Dish will do what we can to air the debate and encourage fresh thinking. We need a viable conservative party in America. Right now, we only have a sub-moronic populist rabble.