"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

GOP Convention–Sorting Sense from Bombast

As much as ‘progressives’ would like to think so, the Republican party is not a complete bunch of zealots, wackos, and out-of-touch ideologues because a large proportion of the American people believes what they do.  These same ‘progressives’ blame Romney Ryan, and the gaggle of radical outliers that self-destructed during the primary season for influencing voters; and that somehow the public’s views on abortion, gay marriage, family, prayer, and small government do not come from them, but from the minds and mouths of a manipulative, intellectually corrupt, and ignorant few. 

Nothing could be farther from the truth.  The Statistical Abstract of the United States estimates that 28.6 percent of Americans are evangelical Christians, most of whom hold very conservative social values.  A Gallup poll in mid-2011 found that most Americans want abortion illegal:

By a 24 percent margin, 61-37 percent, Americans take the pro-life view that abortions should either be legal under no circumstances or legal only under a few circumstances. Although Gallup doesn’t specify those “few” circumstances, polling data has consistently shown that, when asked about cases such as rape,  incest, or the life of the mother, a majority of Americans want all or almost all abortions made illegal — leaving only life of the mother or rape and incest as the exceptions.

According to a Gallup poll taken in May 2012, half of Americans object to same-sex marriage, and of those who object, most are extremely opposed. Gallup (2011) also estimated that 43 percent of Americans feel that illegal immigration to the US should be decreased.  Over 65 percent of Americans (Rasmussen poll 2011) want to reintroduce prayer in the schools.  A recent Washington Post poll (August 2012) found that 55 percent of Americans want smaller government.  Gallup also found (August 2012) that 47 percent of Americans feel that their tax burden is too high.  A recent (April 2012) found that 55 percent of Americans oppose affirmative action.

To claim that the Republican party is way off base, hostage to right-wing zealots, and pursuing a narrow, self-serving agenda, is not consistent with the facts.

Today’s editorial in the Washington Post hammers New Jersey governor Chris Christie for shouting the praises of smaller government, lower taxes, and deficit cutting while presiding over a high unemployment rate.  While the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that New Jersey’s rate is high, a look at their state-by-state figures suggests that there are many factors at work, not just the influence of a governor.  For example, Washington and Oregon – Democratic and avowedly ‘progressive’ states have equally high rates of unemployment.  New York and Mississippi have rates that parallel New Jersey’s and no two states could be more different.  To make the specious correlation between Christie’s policies and high unemployment is simply wrong. 

There is no doubt that some employment, particularly in the public sector has been lost, but Wisconsin, a state in the press for its policies to reduce the influence of public sector unions, has a much lower rate of jobless.  When the county-wide unemployment statistics are examined, all but four of New Jersey’s counties have rates that are close to the national average; and the poor rates in the southern counties cannot be due to Christies statewide policies.  Employment Spectator, a New Jersey website, has suggested that the reason for the poor performance in the southern counties has to do with poor education and low incomes – in other words, the socio-economic status of these areas is already low and shares some of Mississippi’s characteristics.

The factors in each state must be looked at separately and individually and, as above, only a countywide analysis can make sense of the data.  Mississippi is the poorest state in the Union, and therefore the high unemployment rate is not a surprise.  An economic powerhouse like California has an even higher jobless rate, and that despite its leadership in 21st Century technologies and continuing importance as an agricultural production center. 

An analysis of national unemployment figures suggests that something more is going on – structural adjustment.  That is, the economy is in a phase of major transition.  Manufacturing jobs are rapidly losing out to foreign competitors, low- and semi-skilled jobs are less plentiful because of the shift to a knowledge-based economy, and unemployment will continue to be high until the country as a whole catches up with the revolutionary changes in production. David Leonhardt (New York Times January 2011)  suggests that Brad DeLong’s definition of structural adjustment is accurate:

You see structural unemployment when there are significant groups of businesses and industries that are frantically raising wages in an attempt to attract more qualified workers while wages in the economy as a whole are stagnant.

The unemployment figures are lower for college graduates than for those with less education:

The ratio of the typical four-year college graduate’s pay to a typical high-school graduate’s pay hit a record in 2010 — 1.56. Since 2007, the inflation-adjusted median weekly pay of college graduates has risen 1.6 percent. The inflation-adjusted pay of every other educational group — high school dropouts, high school graduates and people who attended college but did not get a four-year degree — has fallen since 2007. The same is true over the last decade; amazingly, only college graduates have received a raise.

It’s pretty surprising that college graduates’ real pay has risen during a three-year period when the economy was in miserable shape. It seems like a clear indication that our economy has an undersupply of skilled, educated workers. To put it another way, if there were more of these workers than they are, more of them would have jobs today.

This echoes the commonly-heard complaint of American industry – we simply cannot find enough qualified workers in the United States, and jobs that could be created here are being created overseas.

The issue of unemployment is a complex one, and I only mean to suggest that the facile arguments used against Chris Christie are obviously politically-driven and select facts to suit their partisan beliefs. 

The GOP platform, then, both reflects the views of a significant number of Americans, and proposes measures accordingly.  What is important, however, is to sort political polemic, posturing, and narrow appeals to the real issue of governance.  Only with a win in the White House, House, and Senate races will the Republicans be able to pass their most extreme propositions – those that take legitimate conservative sentiments in the populations and radicalize them (e.g. completely privatizing Medicare and Social Security); and even then, a vocal minority will be heard.  More than likely the Republicans will have to tone down the expected rhetoric and govern; and they certainly can do so without rejecting the will of their base.

I live in Washington, DC; and as I ride through the federal bureaucratic canyons of the city, I speculate that if one-third of all the jobs were eliminated at random, we would probably be better off, not worse off.  In other words, if we were to objectively analyze the nature of each job and assess if and how it is contributing to the stated goal described for it and at what cost, we would certainly be able to eliminate thousands of jobs.  If I travelled the few miles to Virginia and looked at the Pentagon, I know I could cut thousands of jobs without even getting to reductions in military hardware.  I know that I could achieve billions in savings if I raised the Medicare and Social Security age of benefits by a year and tightened the restrictions on Medicaid. 

With these cuts, I would not even need to look at EPA, FDA, the Departments of Education and Energy – frequent targets of Republicans. 

In short, there is a reasonable way to to the business of cutting.  Admittedly, there is a bi-partisan impasse in being able to take this logical Gregg-Simpson approach; but it is the political compromise that may be required if either party fails to dominate the election.

In conclusion, I feel that the Republicans represent – not create – public opinion which is favorable to many if not most GOP policies.  Secondly, I feel that we are still in the fulminating, posturing stage of the electoral process when the most extreme positions are still reflected; and finally, some compromise, no matter how significant the majority, will inevitably move the Republican closer to the center.

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