The Political Right And Its Connectedness Problem, Again

Sun, 28 Mar 2010 14:47:11 +0000

Eleven months ago, I wrote a post with the same name as this one reflecting on why the Political Right's fortunes were sagging in the wake of Tedisco's win in the NY special election and Specter's defection.  With health care reform now passed, I thought it worthwhile to revisit the idea I raised in the post:

[T]he Political Right has a problem in addressing policy issues in which people are fundamentally connected to each other.  Leaving aside the recent challenges of the financial crisis, the big issues in domestic public policy are health care, education, and the environment.  In each one, the choices that one group of people make affect the opportunities available to other people in a fundamental way -- beyond simply changing relative prices as people interact in free markets.  The connections come in different ways for each of the issues, but they are always related to basic notions of fairness. 

In health care, the connection comes through the formation of the insurance pool.  In our current setup, the pooling occurs largely around employment, which advantages some and not others and can in extreme cases leave out the sickest entirely.  <!--break-->For education, the connection comes through the financing -- particularly the way that a community's resources affect the quality of what is provided to the next generation of students.  Upward mobility is so closely tied to the American way of life and to educational opportunities that the results are bound to be unsatisfactory unless the quality of the education a child receives is protected against poverty in his community.  For the environment, the connection comes through the usual channel of externalities -- one person's emissions pollute another person's air and water.

The Political Left has a default solution for issues of fairness, including those discussed above that arise because people are connected.  That solution is uniform treatment and often comes by simply removing the scope for choice that characterizes a free market.  Consider how most Left-leaning members of the House and Senate would address each issue: single payer health insurance, public schools with centralized control, and command-and-control regulation of the environment.  

I think people understand the relevance of this connectedness, that there are a wide range of views among the people on how connected we should be through our public institutions, and that they are looking for leadership in their elected officials in crafting equitable and efficient solutions to these challenges.  The Republicans in Washington have not been able to chart a sensible course on these issues.  The Democratic leaders in the White House and on Capitol Hill have managed to navigate away from their party's extreme views and legislate, at least on health care, from close to the political center.  President Obama's views on education and environmental regulation, while certainly leaning to the left, are within striking distance of the center as well.