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“Not So Fast”: No, Ted Cruz Is Not an ‘Economic Populist’

There are few words in the political lexicon more frequently misused and abused than populist, particularly in times of strong public hostility toward elites, like the present. Still, Time magazine has truly jumped the shark in publishing an interview with Ted Cruz in which he is encouraged without contradiction to call himself an “economic populist.” If Cruz is an “economic populist,” then the term has truly lost all meaning beyond the pixie dust of rhetorical enchantment.

We are supposed to believe Cruz is a populist because he opposes a few relatively small but symbolically rich corporate-subsidy programs like the Export-Import Bank and regulatory thumbs-on-the-scale for the use of ethanol — both objects of ridicule among libertarians for decades. In the Time interview, he leaps effortlessly from the argument that sometimes government helps corporations to the idea that government should not help anybody.

[B]oth parties, career politicians in both parties get in bed with the lobbyist and special interest. And the fix is in. Where Washington’s policies benefit big business, benefit the rich and the powerful at the expense of the working men and women.

Now the point that I often make, and just a couple of days ago in Wisconsin I was visiting with a young woman who said she was a Bernie Sanders supporter. And I mentioned to her that I agreed with Bernie on the problem.

But I said if you think the problem is Washington is corrupt, why would you want Washington to have more power? I think the answer to that problem is for Washington to have less power, for government to have less power over our lives.

Is there any K Street or Wall Street lobbyist who would not instantly trade whatever preferments they’ve been able to wring from Washington in exchange for a radically smaller government that lets corporations do whatever they want? I don’t think so.

Yet it’s hard to find a politician more inclined to get government off the backs of the very rich and the very powerful. My colleague Jonathan Chait summed it up nicely this very day in discussing Cruz’s Goldwater-ish extremism:

In addition to the de rigueur ginormous tax cut for rich people, Cruz proposes a massive shift of the tax burden away from income taxes to sales taxes. So, not only would Cruz’s plan give nearly half of its benefit to the highest-earning one percent of taxpayers (who would save, on average, nearly half a million dollars a year in taxes per household), but it would actually raise taxes on the lowest-earning fifth …

He advocates for … deregulation of Wall Street, and would eliminate the Clean Power Plan and take away health insurance from some 20 million people who’ve gained it through Obamacare. He has defined himself as more militant and uncompromising than any other Republican in Congress, and many of his fellow Republican officeholders have depicted him as a madman.

Cruz would have you believe his unsavory reputation among Beltway Republicans flows from his identification with the working class as opposed to the special interests. As a matter of fact, he’s considered a madman (or a charlatan) for insisting Republicans ought to shut down the federal government rather than compromise or abandon their anti-working-class policies (and their reactionary social policies as well).

Aside from the policies Chait mentions, Cruz also favors (in contrast to Donald Trump) that populist perennial, “entitlement reform,” including the kind of Social Security benefit cuts and retirement-age delays promoted by George W. Bush back in 2005.

And for dessert, in a position that would certainly make William Jennings Bryan roll in his grave, Cruz is on record favoring tight money policies to combat the phantom menace of inflation, along with a commission to consider a return to the gold standard.

One might argue the description of Cruz as an “economic populist” is a small journalistic excess justified by the heat of the GOP nominating contest. But in a general-election matchup between Cruz and Hillary Clinton, we could find ourselves hearing misleading contrasts of Cruz as a “populist” to Hillary Clinton, the “Establishment” pol. Let’s head that one off at a distance, people. Whatever you think of her set side by side with Bernie Sanders, compared to Cruz she’s a wild leveler and class-warfare zealot, favoring minimum-wage increases, more progressive taxes, large new mandates on businesses, continuation and expansion of Obamacare, action on global climate change, a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and (of course) opposition to the many reactionary policies Ted Cruz holds dear.

Get a grip, gabbers and scribblers: Call Ted Cruz a “constitutional conservative,” as he would have it, or the reincarnation of Barry Goldwater, as many of us regard him. But he’s no economic populist.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Daily Intelligencer, New York Magazine, April 7, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Economic Populists, Monetary Policy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Decisions, Decisions”: Why Cruz Is Worse Than Trump

On economics, that is. On other issues — well, who was worse, Mussolini or Torquemada? Decisions, decisions.

But on economics, Trump is a big protectionist, while Cruz is a devotee of the gold standard. And we know quite a lot about what these policies would do.

Protectionism makes economies less efficient, but it does not, in general, destroy jobs. Put a tariff on imports and people will spend less on imports — but they will normally spend more on other things instead. So a worldwide turn toward protectionism would both reduce everyone’s exports and reduce their imports, with the overall effect on spending and hence on employment more or less a wash.

Yes, I know there’s a Moody’s study claiming that Trumponomics would be a yuuge job destroyer, but I really don’t know where they got that result; the best guess seems to be that they’re assuming that former spending on imports just goes away, which is not a good assumption.

And no, protectionism didn’t cause the Great Depression. It was a consequence, not a cause — and much less severe in countries that had the good sense to leave the gold standard.

Which brings us to Cruz, who is enthusiastic about the gold standard — which did play a major role in spreading the Depression.

The problem with gold is, first of all, that it removes flexibility. Given an adverse shock to demand, it rules out any offsetting loosening of monetary policy.

Worse, relying on gold can easily have the effect of forcing a tightening of monetary policy at precisely the wrong moment. In a crisis, people get worried about banks and seek cash, increasing the demand for monetary base — but you can’t expand the monetary base to meet this demand, because it’s tied to gold. On top of that, a slump drives interest rates down, increasing the demand for real assets perceived as safe — like gold — which is why gold prices rose after the 2008 crisis. But if you’re on a gold standard, nominal gold prices can’t rise; the only way real prices can rise is a fall in the prices of everything else. Hello, deflation!

So on economics, again, Trump is ignorant and unpredictable — but Cruz knows what isn’t so, and would lead us to predictably dire results.

 

By: Paul Krugman, The Conscience of a Liberal, Opinion Pages; The New York Times, April 8, 2016

April 10, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Monetary Policy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Crazy About Money”: Cruz’s Obsession With Gold Would Do Even More Economic Damage Than Trump

In this year of Trump, the land is loud with the wails of political commentators, rending their garments and crying out, “How can this be happening?” But a few brave souls are willing to whisper the awful truth: Many voters support Donald Trump because they actually agree with his ideas.

This is not, however, a column about Mr. Trump. It is, instead, about Ted Cruz, who has emerged as the favored candidate of the G.O.P. elite now that less disagreeable alternatives have imploded.

In a way, that’s quite a remarkable development. For Mr. Cruz has staked out positions on crucial issues that are, not to put too fine a point on it, crazy. How can elite Republicans back him?

The answer is the same for Mr. Cruz and the elites as it is for Mr. Trump and the base: Leading Republicans support Mr. Cruz, not despite his policy positions, but because of them. They may not like his style, but they agree with his substance.

This is true, for example, when it comes to Mr. Cruz’s belligerent stance on foreign policy. Establishment Republicans may wince at the candidate’s fondness for talking about “carpet bombing” or his choice of a noted anti-Muslim bigot and conspiracy theorist as an adviser.

But both Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio chose foreign policy teams dominated by the very people who pushed America into the Iraq debacle, and learned nothing from the experience. I know I wasn’t the only observer who looked at those rosters and thought, “They will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

And then there’s a subject dear to my heart: monetary policy. You might be surprised to learn that few of the subjects I write on inspire as much passion — or as much hate mail. And it’s a subject on which Mr. Cruz has staked out a distinctive position, by calling for a return to the gold standard.

This is, in case you’re wondering, very much a fringe position among economists. When members of a large bipartisan panel on economic policy, run by the University of Chicago business school, were asked whether a gold standard would be an improvement on current arrangements, not one said yes.

In fact, many economists believe that a destructive focus on gold played a major role in the spread of the Great Depression. And Mr. Cruz’s obsession with gold is one reason to believe that he would do even more economic damage in the White House than Mr. Trump would.

So how can elite Republicans — people who have denounced Mr. Trump in part because they claim that he advocates terrible economic policies — be supporting a candidate with such fringe views? The answer is that many of them are also out there on the fringe.

This wasn’t always true. As recently as 2004, Bush administration economists lauded the very kind of policy activism a return to the gold standard is supposed to prevent, declaring that “aggressive monetary policy can help make a recession shorter and milder.” But today’s leading Republicans, living in their own closed intellectual universe, are a very different breed.

Take, as a not at all arbitrary example, Paul Ryan, the speaker of the House and arguably the de facto leader of the Republican establishment.

As I have pointed out on a number of occasions, Mr. Ryan is fundamentally a con man on his signature issue, fiscal policy. Incidentally, for what it’s worth, Mr. Cruz has been relatively honest by his party’s standards on this issue, openly declaring his intention to raise taxes that hit the poor and the middle class even as he slashes them on the rich.

But Mr. Ryan seems to be a true believer on monetary policy — the kind of true believer whose faith cannot be shaken by contrary evidence. It’s now five years since he accused Ben Bernanke of pursuing inflationary policies that would “debase” the dollar; if the rising dollar and slumping inflation that followed has ever given him pause, he has shown no sign of it.

But what, exactly, is the nature of his monetary faith? The same as the nature of Mr. Cruz’s beliefs: Both men are devotees of Ayn Rand, even if Mr. Ryan now tries to downplay his well-documented Rand fandom.

At one point Mr. Ryan got quite specific about his intellectual roots, declaring that he always goes back to “Francisco d’Anconia’s speech on money” — one of the interminable monologues in Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” — “when I think about monetary policy.” And that speech is a paean to the gold standard and a denunciation of money-printing as immoral.

The moral here is that we shouldn’t be surprised by the Republican establishment’s willingness to rally behind Mr. Cruz. Yes, Mr. Cruz portrays himself as an outsider, and has managed to make remarkably many personal enemies. But while his policy ideas are extreme, they reflect the same extremism that pervades the party’s elite.

There are no moderates, or for that matter, sensible people, anywhere in this story.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Contributor, The New York Times, March 25, 2016

March 25, 2016 Posted by | Donald Trump, Establishment Republicans, Monetary Policy, Ted Cruz | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Christian Economics” Meets The Anti-Union Movement

Gary North was nearly impossible to track down. He did not return multiple e-mails, and when finally reached by phone, he refused to talk and hung up.

But if you know where to look, he is everywhere.

Mr. North, a onetime aide to Representative Ron Paul of Texas, a possible 2012 Republican presidential candidate, is the leading proponent of “Christian economics,” which applies biblical principles to economic issues and the free market.

Largely unknown to the broader public, Mr. North is an influential figure on the American far right. He has written dozens of books, blogs prolifically and is on the curriculum of Christian home-schoolers across America.

He may even have turned up among the antiunion protesters in Madison, Wis., this year.

Not literally, of course (and who would have recognized him if he had been there?). But Christian conservatism and free-market conservatism meet in Mr. North’s writings. A small but vigorous part of the conservative movement has absorbed his view that the Bible is opposed to organized labor, and especially to organized public employees.

“Not only do Reconstructionists believe that public employees should not have the right to organize, they believe that almost all of them should not be public employees,” writes Julie Ingersoll, of the University of North Florida, in the Web magazine Religion Dispatches. “Most of the tasks performed by those protesting the Wisconsin state budget would, in the biblical economics of North,” be privatized.

These “Reconstructionists” are believers in Christian Reconstructionism, the philosophy of R. J. Rushdoony, who died in 2001. According to Reconstructionism, a Christian theocracy under Old Testament law is the best form of government, and a radically libertarian one. Biblical law, they believe, presupposes total government decentralization, with the family and church providing order. Until that day comes, Reconstructionists believe the rights to home-school and to worship freely at least provide the barest conditions of liberty.

Mr. North, who is Mr. Rushdoony’s son-in-law but was not on speaking terms with him from 1981 until Mr. Rushdoony’s death, focuses on how that biblical libertarianism applies to economics. He concluded that the Bible forbids any welfare programs, is opposed to all inflation, and requires a gold-coin standard for money.

“God has cursed the earth,” Mr. North writes, alluding to the Book of Genesis in his 1973 book “Introduction to Christian Economics. “This is the starting point for all economic analysis. The earth no longer gives up her fruits automatically. Man must sweat to eat.” Mr. North writes that no form of government assistance “will escape the ethical limits” of the Apostle Paul’s dictum, in II Thessalonians, that “if any would not work, neither should he eat.”

And evidence that God would prefer gold money to paper can be found throughout the Old Testament, according to Mr. North. There are more than 350 references to gold in Strong’s famous Bible concordance, he writes. Gold is used in worship, godly wisdom is compared to gold and the Hebrew prophets used the debasement of metals as a metaphor for immorality.

Home-schoolers can download Mr. North’s economics textbook free from his Web site. And his thinking may have influenced Representative Paul, who briefly employed Mr. North as a speechwriter, working on monetary policy, in 1976.

Michael J. McVicar, who teaches at Ohio State and wrote a doctoral dissertation on Mr. Rushdoony, said Mr. North discovered Mr. Rushdoony’s writing as a young man in Southern California, shortly after he became, along with his parents, an evangelical Christian.

“He corresponded with Rushdoony and made this his livelihood: to generate some synthesis between biblical law and libertarian economics,” Mr. McVicar said. “Eventually Rushdoony took him under his wing and became a sort of surrogate father for North, who married one of Rushdoony’s daughters.”

The two men’s “spectacular break,” as Mr. McVicar calls it, split Reconstructionism into two camps. The break was partly over the kind of theological minutiae that would impress even a rabbinical scholar. In fact, one issue might pique the interest of real rabbinical scholars.

“It was about North’s interpretation of, of all things, Passover and the Israelites’ marking the doorposts with the blood of the lamb,” Mr. McVicar said. “North made this argument, that because of the doorpost’s structure, that this was an indication of hymenal blood from the marriage bed, and tied it into what Rushdoony called this ‘fertility cult’ mentality. And Rushdoony took a much more common-sense approach to the blood.

“The subtext is, it’s a father-son spat,” Mr. McVicar concluded.

The deeper one looks into the obsessions of Mr. North — who was born in 1942 and who as of 2007 lived in Horn Lake, Miss. — the harder it is to spot his influence in Wisconsin. The main themes of the Wisconsin budget battles were union influence, the distribution of wealth and the public fisc; Mr. North, by contrast, is associated with his own brand of far-right Presbyterianism, gun-owners’ rights, home-schooling and the gold standard for money.

Mr. McVicar believes that Professor Ingersoll’s attempted connection between Christian economics and the rallies in Madison is a bit tenuous. “Her insight has to be in my mind so heavily qualified as to make it almost nothing,” he said. But he concedes that it “has the most basic essence of truth,” given how widely Mr. North’s teachings have been disseminated on the Christian right.

Professor Ingersoll concedes it is difficult to prove direct connections between Mr. North’s writings and Wisconsin antiunion conservatism. On the other hand, Mr. North might like to think he has influenced the Wisconsin debate, and he has written in vociferous support of Gov. Scott Walker.

And, as Professor Ingersoll cautions, influence does not always announce itself:

“I like to say, ‘How many Christians know who is Augustine is, and how he influenced them?’ ”

By: Mark Oppenheimer, The New York Times, April 29, 2011

May 1, 2011 Posted by | Collective Bargaining, Conservatives, Democracy, Government, Ideologues, Ideology, Liberatarians, Politics, Religion, Right Wing, Union Busting, Unions, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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