Political discussion over the last few months illustrates exactly why I cannot be a liberal . . . well, not a modern liberal anyway. My political views aren’t too far off from what we students of Political Science call ‘classical liberalism,’ but there aren’t many classical liberals left. Most of them call themselves conservatives now. ‘Liberal’ today simply doesn’t mean what ‘liberal’ used to.
Anyway, my objection to modern liberalism—especially with regard to government fiscal policy—is the modern liberals’ incredible ability to pretend that nothing is wrong when, in fact, things are collapsing around them. Let’s take the discussion over Medicare as an example. Anybody who has bothered to actually look at the current status of the Medicare program, and the reputable projections of where it is going, can see that the system cannot be sustained indefinitely. It just can’t. The system will go bankrupt and collapse without some kind of intervention. This is reality, not a point of debate. The question is what kind of intervention is best.
Representative Paul Ryan (R-WI 1st) has proposed to shift Medicare, which is currently a government-administered senior health care system, more toward being a private sector system. Obviously there is room for debate about whether this is the best solution; maybe it is, maybe it isn’t. I’m not familiar enough with the many issues involved to have a concrete opinion. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that Ryan’s plan—even if it reduces health care availability to some seniors, which I’m not convinced it will anyway—is a better place to start than the current system, which is on the road to collapsing and leaving all seniors without coverage, or bankrupting the government, or causing some other fiscal calamity.
In other words, an imperfect (or even wrong) proposal is generally better than pretending nothing is wrong to score political points.
I feel the same way about the federal deficit. I’ve read articles from left-wing pundits claiming that deficits aren’t a big problem, or that cuts to federal programs would have more negative than positive impact for our society, or that tax hikes are the best solution to balancing the budget. This reveals a stunning lack of basic economic and historic knowledge . . . like undergrad 101-level knowledge. The only thing these articles tell me is that our public schools and colleges aren’t doing their jobs properly.
Poor fiscal and monetary policy, kept up long enough, inevitably causes social and governmental strife. Like individuals and businesses, governments can only run deficits so long before they go bankrupt. At some point, the debt gets to be too big, and the government and/or currency goes under. Tax hikes during recessions prolong and deepen those recessions. We have seen these things over and over and over again through the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Once again, this is reality, not a point of debate.
And once again, I’ll take imperfect, unpleasant, ‘political suicide’ kinds of solutions over ignorantly pretending that nothing is wrong. The Democratic Party can score some cheap political points by portraying the Republican Party as a bunch of heartless bastards trying to cut grandma’s Medicare and other federal social programs. It might work. But if the Democrats succeed at scuttling Medicare reform and spending control, then it is the Democrats who will have to answer for what follows . . . and what follows will be much more painful than any of the cuts and reforms proposed today by the Republicans.