Friday, September 26, 2014

Reform Conservatives and the Export-Import Bank

A subset of the conservative intellectual movement has begun to call itself "reform conservatism". Generally, reform conservatives are real conservatives who are too cool for the Tea Party. Paul Ryan is the supreme example. Other notables include Yuval Levin, Ramesh Ponnuru and the new House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. You might have to ask the above brain trust on whether the former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor still belongs in the club after becoming the first House Majority Leader to ever lose in his own primary. Reform conservatives wear suits, drink wine and pose for pictures like this:

while exercising their supreme intellect, eloquence and influence with the cool kids to get real conservative reforms implemented in government.

After Eric Cantor lost his election to virtual nobody David Brat, reform conservatives began an obviously coordinated effort to abolish the Export-Import Bank. Cantor had been a supporter of the bank, so the rest of the reform conservative movement immediately moved against the institution Cantor had been protecting.  Reform conservatives began writing articles everywhere about how the Export-Import Bank was nothing more than a slush fund, a pork barrel full of taxpayer cash for favored business interests, most notably Boeing. (Boeing stock dropped two percent after Cantor lost his election.) Supposedly the Ex-Im Bank helps American companies export their goods overseas, but we all know this game. Boeing spends a lot on lobbyists, and they get a lot of cash from the government for their efforts. The Ex-Im Bank was an excellent target for reform conservatives. There was no expectation the Democrats would fight it very hard since Boeing is of course a military contractor and a traditionally Republican interest, so it shouldn't have required a Republican Congress to get done. In addition, the Ex-Im Bank was up for extension earlier this month, meaning that a vote was required to extend the bank. Crucially, the movement to abolish it did not require a positive vote. It only needed to stop a vote to extend it, which made it politically possible without Republican control of the Senate. Reform conservatives recognized a genuine political opportunity to actually do something, and launched a coordinated effort against the Ex-Im Bank. As far as I can tell, they've never done anything like this before. It serves as an instructive test as to what these reform conservatives can get done when it really matters, unlike the forty-plus votes in the House to pass the Ryan budget when everyone knew the Senate wouldn't let it out of committee.

In the actual event, reform conservatives managed to get a vote that only extended the Ex-Im Bank for nine months instead of the seven years that Harry Reid wanted. I'm sure they were told it was a compromise, and that they had scored a victory by getting an opportunity to "revisit" the issue again next year. I'm sure reform conservatives were also told that Republicans would be more receptive to the move after the election this fall, that doing it now would make the Democrats really mad, and we just can't have that. "Wait till after the election". Then after the election we will have to wait until after the next one. We've all heard this before. We'll see if reform conservatives remember. I certainly will, and in nine months I'll be watching closely to see exactly how much real power reform conservatives have. I'll be watching to see how many articles they publish on it and how much difference it makes. My guess is not even enough to get rid of a massive government subsidy for a military contractor when the military budget is being slashed all across the board. But I'll bet they have enough power to get the run-around again, another short extension instead of a long one and the chance to "revisit" the issue again. In the meantime, the Ex-Im Bank continues on just as it has been and nothing changes, even if Republicans take the Senate.

The Tea Party, for all its uncoolness, knows something that reform conservatives do not. If you want to wield political power, you must first have it. It's not enough to appeal to the ideology to which every Republican appeals to get elected in his primary. You have to have political power and you have to hurt somebody with it before you are taken seriously. You can't be a wine club that writes articles for online conservative magazines and expect to get anything done.

The Tea Party also knows that the first enemy is not Democrats but Republicans. Nothing conservative is going to happen when conservatives don't even have control of the supposedly conservative party. We are constantly told that anything conservatives want must wait till next time, while raising the payroll tax, extending the Ex-Im Bank, etc., etc., always happens so easily without so much as a peep from the Republican establishment. We are constantly told to wait until the next election, if we do it now we might lose the election, it's not the right time, we must compromise, etc., etc., etc. Reform conservatives seem to take these excuses at face value, instead of recognizing them for what they are: black propaganda. The Tea Party may not look good in suits, but at least we're not dupes.

Now that's whack.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Freedom to Fail

Tomorrow Scotland votes on independence from the United Kingdom of which it has been a part for a little over three hundred years. From what I am hearing the vote will be very close. Also from what I am hearing, the independence movement mostly thinks it can manage its own socialist state better than the UK can. I consider this unlikely for two reasons. First, socialist systems get some advantages from banding together in larger groups. Failure takes longer when there's more to be ruined. Second, England, mostly London, is still one the world's greatest financial centers, if not the greatest. Without all that English money to redistribute to mostly poor Scotland, Scots will quickly find out how expensive a socialist state is and that they likely cannot pay for it. The learning process will of course lag far behind reality, and so we can expect an independent Scottish state to quickly build up massive amounts of debt and become the next Greece, requiring all manner of bailouts from the IMF or the EU and experience the accompanying austerity measures. We shall see if Scottish national pride is enough to swallow all of this, or at least enough to refuse to admit that independence was a mistake if the purpose is to become an even more socialist state than the UK.

Many who have probably already made this same diagnosis might say independence is a mistake generally, but I disagree. I am in favor of anything which may teach people a lesson. Western nations have become far too maternal for my taste, always trying to prevent others around the world from making mistakes and reasoning, correctly, that if they withdrew their involvement these other nations would quickly fall into disarray. It ought to be painfully obvious that the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq as promised and implemented by President Obama has led to a rapid disintegration there. Nations suddenly given self-government usually find a way to make every possible mistake which can be made, often by explicitly rejecting the right course of action simply because that was what their old masters were doing. India after independence provides a sobering example of this. Dinesh D'Souza's movie, 2016, shows an interesting interview with one of Barack Obama's half-brothers in Kenya who wrote a book arguing that Kenya has been worse off economically after gaining independence from the British. When you treat other nations like children, they tend to become like children. Children growing up can be told all manner of good things they should do and bad things they should not, but most of these lessons will go unheeded. The greatest teacher of humanity is not parents but pain. So here's to pain and failure, to Scotland's independent future, and the lessons they may be about to learn.

Now that's whack.

P.S. There may be another reason to celebrate an independent Scotland. UKIP, the rapidly rising political party in Britain favoring independence from the EU, will likely make significant gains if something like Scottish independence shocks the normally stodgy British out of their complacency. Unlike Scotland's independence, independence from the EU would be unquestionably and immediately good for Britain.