Election 2020

Here's the One Book All the Democratic Candidates (and President Trump) Should Read

Amity Shlaes' Great Society: A New History details the failure of massive governmental attempts to remake society.

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As I watched last night's three-hour-long debate among seven Democratic presidential candidates, my mind wandered not out of boredom but frustration. When candidates such as former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Mayor Pete Buttigieg laid out their plans for grand, transformative change in America via the federal government, they did so without hesitation or any sense of recent history. In this, they are of course joined by Donald Trump, who has presided over budgets and deficits that are historically high for peacetime.

Between jabs about fundraisers in wine caves with chrystals and $900 bottle service, the Democrats mostly squabbled over some of the small stuff—whether all college loans should be forgiven or just 95 percent of them—while acting as if radically expanding the size, scope, and spending of government had never been tried.

Thus Joe Biden, who has been in the Senate since the early 1970s, can blithely call for tax hikes twice as big as Hillary Clinton proposed way back in 2016, and he does so mostly to expand Obamacare, the program that was supposed to fix health care once and for all. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren can call for an infinite amount of new spending that can supposedly be financed by taxes on the "tippy top" of the U.S. income distribution. Even Mayor Pete, the supposed Midwestern moderate, is calling for free college for families making up to $100,000 or more, depending on the number of children. (The median household income is $63,179, to give some perspective.)

At the same time, Donald Trump and his party are signing off on paid family leave for federal workers (in a defense bill, of all things), a policy that hurts gender equity in the workplace and was unthinkable to Republicans only a few years ago.

The candidates and the incumbent would do well to read Amity Shlaes' new book. Great Society: A New History tells about Lyndon Johnson's well-intentioned but failed attempt in the 1960s to build what he called

a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.

Thus, the War on Poverty, which didn't eradicate poverty; a host of welfare programs that were partly dismantled in the late 1990s after their failure became inescapable even to early supporters; and the creation of Medicare, a health-insurance program for the elderly that is bankrupting the federal budget, and Medicaid, a health-insurance program for low-income Americans that despite its massive costs is in some important respects worse than no coverage at all. (A major 2013 New England Journal of Medicine study found that "Medicaid Has No Effect on Measured Health Outcomes.")

Lord knows that in today's America, we could use some beautiful and transcendent goals. But the lessons from the Great Society era are clear: Yesterday's grand solutions often provide today's problems. In 1966, for instance, government analysts predicted that Medicare would cost about $12 billion in 1990 (in inflation-adjusted dollars). The actual cost was north of $100 billion, and Medicare remains the single-biggest driver of growth in the federal budget. In 2009, President Barack Obama's chief economic advisor, Christina Romer, released a study that concluded, "Nearly 30 percent of Medicare's costs could be saved without adverse health consequences." Yet here we are in the 2020 race, where the big divide is between Democratic candidates who believe in "Medicare for All" and those who back "Medicare for All Who Want It."

"Just as the 1960s forgot the failure of the 1930s, we today forget the failures of the 1960s," writes Shlaes. "For today, the contest between capitalism and socialism is on again." Progressive proposals "from redistribution via taxation to sudent debt relief to a universal basic income" are regaining popularity. Meanwhile, President Trump has ended the Republican Party's rhetoric of fiscal responsibility and limited government. If that rhetoric was never particularly convincing—surely we all can remember the disastrous George W. Bush presidency, when the government grew in practically every way possible—it at least kept alive a tradition that seems more relevant now than ever.

Shlaes is best known for The Forgotten Man, a bestselling revisionist history of the Great Depression that argued that President Franklin Roosevelt's "bold, persistent experimentation" prolonged rather than ameliorated economic collapse. In a recent interview with me, she likened LBJ's Great Society to a domestic-policy version of his disastrous intervention in Vietnam, when the "best and the brightest" minds of American politics assured a quick and important victory. She also added that it wasn't just LBJ and Democrats who pushed the Great Society and Vietnam—Richard Nixon and other Republicans helped sustain and even expand their goals, programs, and costs. "May this book serve as a cautionary tale of lovable people who, despite themselves, hurt those they loved," writes Shlaes. "Nothing is new. It is just forgotten."

I didn't go into last night's debate expecting any of the candidates to start talking about the limits of government's ability to instantly and easily reshape the world. I don't expect Donald Trump, who likes power the way some people like cocaine, to shrink the size, scope, and spending of government. But surely it's not too much to ask for a little skepticism, especially when the near past is so close at hand.

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  1. Better to have NO government *wink wink, ammirite Gillespie?

    1. Are those the options? No government or $1T bipartisan deficits?

      This is why Congresses led by both parties are largely disliked by voters in all polls. Neither party is for small government anymore.

      1. The Libertarian Party is supposed to be for small government.

        1. Which explains why you are not libertarian and are a Trumpista.

        2. Poor Alphabet troll is needed over at the Boehm article today and he is lurking around here.

          1. Poor 1789 troll replies to himself because it’s less embarrassing than saying anything useful.

          2. Alphabet troll no likey when me not reply to his trolling. It does not give him rupees.

    2. straw man
      /ˌstrô ˈman/
      noun
      1.
      an intentionally misrepresented proposition that is set up because it is easier to defeat than an opponent’s real argument.

      1. Poor Sarcasmic.

        He doesnt see through hack writer implications.

        “I don’t expect Donald Trump, who likes power the way some people like cocaine, to shrink the size, scope, and spending of government.”

        This does not mean tiny and limited government because Gillespie is NOT a Libertarian. This is sad TDS jab at Trump which has no basis in reality. Trump does not even drink or use drugs and does try to rollback government.

        1. When has Trump ever tried to “rollback government”?

          1. His proposed budget is full of spending cuts. I’m not sure if they are actual cuts, or just cuts in the rate of increase. Doesn’t much matter since Congress will never pass it. Meanwhile he’s increasing spending on the Constitution-free zone, otherwise known as the jurisdiction of Border Patrol.

            Trump talks a good game. Much like Reagan did. But the proof is in the pudding, or in this case the ballooning federal deficit and debt.

            Cue the feverish insults and accusations of being an anarchist. Daring to insult Reagan, the Patron Saint of Conservatism, is like stirring up a hornet nest on this once libertarian, but now Republican forum.

            1. Do Republicans still revere Reagan?

              1. I’m pretty sure, but you should ask a Republican if you really want to know. lc?

                1. Im not Ronald Reagan you retard.

          2. “When has Trump ever tried to “rollback government”?”

            Holy crap – where’s everyone getting their information from!!!
            https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-delivering-deregulation/

            One only has to google for President Trump and Deregulation and the whole first page is RESULTS of them.

            1. These guys will do anything for webtraffic bumps.

              Real discussions cannot be found with sarcasmic or james taggart or lymchpin.

        2. This is sad TDS jab at Trump which has no basis in reality.

          Gillespie is more libertarian that you, and definitely more libertarian than Trump.

          But that’s a really low bar. Heck, my pubic hair is more libertarian than your Republican ass.

          1. Finally some sarcasm out of you!

            I agree Gillespie is a hack and we all see through reason staffs bullshit.

            Enjoy that circling blue toilet water…hacks.

    3. He’s explicitly not an anarchist though. I know that you choose to be willfully ignorant on this particular subject, but why show it off?

      1. It’s how lcs shuts down debate. He shouts “Anarchist! Anarchist! You’re an anarchist!” and claims a smug victory when the straw man is defeated.

        It’s pretty sad too, because there used to be some really good debate on this forum. But that’s all gone thanks to lcs and others who shout insults when they detect any perceivable slight against Trump. I learned a lot here. Got me interested in economics, and into reading the works of Hazlit, Bastiat, Hayek and others. Now the mere mention of Austrian economics results in ad hominems and straw men. It’s really sad how a few jerks can ruin a good thing for everyone.

        1. “But that’s all gone thanks to lcs and others who shout insults when they detect any perceivable slight against Trump. ”

          What butthurt horseshit.. The changes started long before Trump.

          1. I never said they didn’t.

          2. At least you agree that a fruitful oasis of knowledge is now a cesspool of Trump fellatio.

          3. Sarcasmic acts like he is master baiter….

            He couldnt bait his little worm , so it causes him distress.

    4. I read Forgotten Man so Shales pretty reliable historian but to say Medicare is bankpruting the government but DoD is not is simply stupid. Who do you think should take care of Granny or you when you are 85? employer health insurance? of just let em die, and one of them will eventually be you?
      so Medicaid doesn’t get results, how come life expectancy is up for everyone but middle income white men who drink or smoke themselves to death.

      and of course always the complaints but never any suggestion as what to do. Nations with more comprehensive HC have much lower costs and much better results. could it be our system and not the fed dollars spent?

      so its not the socialism but the way its adminisstered and of course unique to us is we spend all our political time and energy trying to undo what exists rather than fix it. Ocare , 8 years, 40 bills to kill, 2 visits to SCOTUS and we are back at it in 5h Circuit. imagine instead of all the energy spent trying to kill it was spent to improve it. and imagine what certainty to HC companies and patients alike that would engender.

  2. Shlaes is a pathetic hack and it’s sad that non-pathetic non-hack Nick Gillespie is pushing her lame-ass jive. If you count “transfer payments” when calculating poverty rates, as, obviously, you should, the poverty rate has declined substantially since the 1960s. Liberals tend not to do this because they want to argue that “more” is needed, while conservatives don’t because they want to argue that anti-poverty programs haven’t worked. I’m not sure if all of the current spending programs being pushed by Democratic candidates are bad, but I am sure that most of them are. What we need is a greatly expanded earned income tax credit, so that working people who aren’t in the top 20 percent can actually benefit from the expanding economy, not giveaways to kids whose parents already are in the top 20 percent, and not Lizzie Warren telling the world what to do.

    1. You misspelled your name again.

    2. The real poverty rate has indeed declined. And if you look at when it declined the most, it becomes quite clear that the anti-poverty programs had pretty much nothing to do with that decline.

    3. “If you count “transfer payments” when calculating poverty rates, as, obviously, you should, the poverty rate has declined substantially since the 1960s.”

      OK, cite and one that shows what you claim, not some fucking correlate.
      I’m calling lefty bullshit.

    4. Have you read her book? You called her a hack. Based on what? I read The Forgotten Man and it was excellent. I’ll probably read this new book as well. Then I’ll be able to give an informed opinion.

    5. it is a question of fairness. how much does 1 dollar of a millionaire come from the government. let’s start with the biggie, government at so tall levels preserve the laws of private property and enforces contracts. take away that and Richie rich would be a pauper. can you quantify it? how much per tax payer is spent on law enforcement and the civil courts?

      now of course your a titan and you products need to get to market. so the highways are funded by a regressive gas tax. and the internet gets built and you sell 10 years+ sales tax freer. of course the whole cost of al gore building the internet. I think the figure is around a trillion the feds have spent building the internet.

      so when they say the poor get several hundred dollars a month, compare that to the titan and what he has gotten thru fed investment, tax benefits, freedom of commerce.

  3. Amity Shlaes’ Great Society: A New History details the failure of massive governmental attempts to remake society.

    Coming from a publication that argues we should abandon all traditional concepts of morality, do away with traditional culture, force religious people to renounce their faith if they want to operate a business, and replace the entire population of the country with foreign immigrants because people are fungible in the same way as #8 deck screws.

    1. Did you just blow in from Stupidville or something?

      1. Did the jerk store call?

        If you have nothing to say and can’t refute anything I’ve presented you’re perfectly free to remain silent instead of beclowning yourself.

        1. I’m also perfectly free to respond. It’s a libertarian magazine. You want your version of traditional morality? You want to claim that we have a homgeneous traditional culture? You might get some pushback.

        2. “Did the jerk store call?”

          Yeah, you’re wanted on the phone.

  4. wine caves with chrystals and $900 bottle service

    Am I missing a pop culture reference, or did an article written by an editor at large make it to press with such an easy word misspelled?

    Also, what the fuck are wine caves?

    1. Well I’ve been in my share of beer caves [that always freeze my nubs off even in mid July] and even some champagne caves in France, but I’ve never been in a wine cave; so I looked it up:

      Wine caves are subterranean structures for the storage and the aging of wine. They are an integral component of the wine industry worldwide. The design and construction of wine caves represents a unique application of underground construction techniques. Wikipedia

      For much greater detail,

      https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/12/pete-buttigieg-wine-cave-fundraiser-cellar.html

      But, does the election for POTUS run through a wine cave? I suppose that and a few other subterranean venues…

    2. Chrystal was smokin’ hot back in the day. I had some good times in her wine cave.

    3. Isn’t there an expensive champagne called chrystal, emphasis on the -al? I’m not sure how it is spelled, though.

    4. The mayor from Indiana had a fundraiser with rich donors from California and was taunted for it.

  5. Maybe start the Democrats on something a bit easier, like The Little Red Hen.

    1. +100

  6. And they would read it if they were actually interested in what’s good for society at large beyond “It would be good for society if I were God-Emperor ruling with an iron fist.”

    1. “It would be good for society if I were God-Emperor ruling with an iron fist.”

      “Oh they’re just wrong.”

      1. To be followed with a self satisfied glower that only a fool would question any further.

  7. Amity Schlaes has become a reliable voice lamenting all of this damnable progress. Or, in other words, a predictable, tired right-wing mouthpiece.

    1. Reverend Arthur L. Gecko has become a reliable voice lamenting all of this damnable progress. Or, in other words, a predictable, tired left-wing mouthpiece.

    2. “…Or, in other words, a predictable, tired right-wing mouthpiece.”

      IOWs, someone who writes facts you can’t dispute and argues with integrity.
      Fuck off, asshole bigot.

  8. I don’t expect Donald Trump, who likes power the way some people like cocaine, to shrink the size, scope, and spending of government.

    You mean the guy slashing federal regulations, appointing originalists, and trying to kill the ACA?

    You’re nasty idiot.

  9. “Donald Trump and his party are signing off on paid family leave for federal workers (in a defense bill, of all things), a policy that hurts gender equity in the workplace ”

    Oh fuck Gillespie, you just couldn’t help yourself, could you? No neither of those programs are anything libertarians should support. But the problem with the latter has nothing to do with whatever notions of ‘gender equity’ you think should have any meaning to libertarians.

    It’s a government mandated benefit that the government has no business mandating. Full. Fucking. Stop. That is what is wrong with it.

    1. I also like how “signing off” on the budget supposedly makes Trump and his party entirely responsible for any item of it getting thought-up, written and pitched.

      Actually; this whole “tack-it to the budget bill” filthy habit of congress is getting pretty sick. I doubt it will happen but I look forward to Trump vetoing the budget to no end and shutting down the federal government until congress stops pulling this “tack-it-on” BS.

      1. Yup. Federal budgets should be rider free. Making that a constitutional amendment requirement with balanced budget would be good too. All national debt needs to be resubmitted every day by congress.

  10. And I thought it would be “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” by Robert Fulghum!

  11. Is there any evidence Democrats can read? Well other than The Communist Manifesto, Mao’s Little Red Book, etc. back in their college days.

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