The Political Right and Its Connectedness Problem

Tue, 28 Apr 2009 21:42:37 +0000

After the election, I wondered what the strategy of the Political Right/Conservative Movement/Republican Party would be to recover from sound defeats in 2006 and 2008. The recent loss of Jim Tedisco in the NY-20 special election confirms that the momentum is still in favor of the Democrats. Senator Arlen Specter's defection today makes recovery even more remote. A number of blogs have appeared to collect ideas for how the Right will rebuild itself. Two of the ones I've been checking on occasion are The Next Right and The New Majority.

I'd like to add to the conversation that the 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.

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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. 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.

If your political views are like mine, then you cringe at the prospect of the Political Left imposing these solutions. You hope for more centrists views to prevail, and you look for better solutions elsewhere. What do you find from the Political Right these days? On health care, no acknowledgement of the fundamental problem of pooling in shaping a solution. On education, some lofty rhetoric and some good ideas about school choice, but little in the way of a solution for all kids in poor districts. On the environment, outright denials of some of the problems and no willingness to champion market-based solutions like a carbon tax. In a word, nothing.

Unless and until the Political Right can be the source of solutions to these sorts of problems, it will have and deserve an increasingly marginal role in political affairs.