Populism, jobs and the economy — where do we go from here?

by Fran Smith on January 20, 2010

Scott Brown’s decisive victory in the Massachusetts Senate race has upturned the Democrats’ Progressive agenda.  Brown, “the people’s seat” senator, had a resonant message that tapped into the electorate’s disenchantment with ever-increasing government (with the health care proposals figuring strongly), huge deficit spending, and increased taxes to pay for the trillions of dollars in new government programs. Jobs and the economy were an overarching issue.

It was a populist victory that carried many of the themes of the “Tea Party” movement, which, so far, haven’t been promoted by either party.  If the Republicans don’t latch onto those themes with an agenda of their own, they really are the “dumb Party.”

What’s a cause for concern, however, is how the Democrats are likely to embrace people’s fear and anger by taking up their own populist cudgel to even more vigorously attack capitalism, consumer choice, and any and all Big Business entities.

There indeed is fierce popular anger at bank bailouts and big bonuses – Wall Street has become a synonym for greed and arrogance that caused the financial meltdown, with little recognition that government and quasi-government entities like the Federal Reserve and Fannie and Freddie contributed to the financial problems.

Though some banks deserve much of the public disapprobrium because of their mismanagement and sellout on TARP funds, even those banks that were healthy or fought their own way back to solvency are being asked to pick up the tab for their less-responsible brethren. Expect the Democrats to exact more such retribution from banks — in the name of the people.

In addressing the big issues of jobs and the economy, the Democrats will have a hard time spending more money on stimulus packages that seem to evaporate before any jobs are created. But there will probably be an even bigger push for “green jobs.” Democratic leadership may decide that a massive and economically destructive cap-and-trade bill isn’t feasible in this political climate.  They may look to more “green jobs” and “alternative fuels” boondoggles through taxes and fees on fossil fuel industries as a better way to sell the idea of restrictions on and higher costs for energy use. Yet those subsidized jobs themselves are costly, as the Wall Street Journal noted in mid-December 2009 about the 253,000 of direct jobs created:

The 253,000 direct jobs works out to a cost of about $90,000 a head-just for one year. Clean-energy manufacturing jobs are even more expensive to create, costing about $135,000 per job.

It will be difficult to relate the Democrats’ health care proposals to jobs and the economy when the costs are projected by the Congressional Budget Office at $1 trillion in additional federal spending over the next 10 years. But that figure – while astronomical — doesn’t include the states’ mandates, which will cost $25 billion more over 10 years or the unknown costs of the mandates for individuals and employers to buy insurance. Those costs will be paid for by increased yet hidden taxes – and not just on the so-called rich.

Plus, the closed-door negotiations on the bills have resulted in deals that most people consider unfair and outrageous, for instance, Nebraska is the only state that won’t have to pay future unfunded Medicare and Medicaid mandates; Louisiana gets $300 million for agreeing to support the Senate bill; and union members don’t have to pay “Cadillac-plan” taxes on their generous health care plans. These proposals will actually hold back job creation by causing uncertainty among both small and large businesses and thus reluctance to expand jobs. And taxpayers rightly understand that they will bear the increased costs.

In the wake of Scott Brown’s election, whether the Democrats will continue their shenanigans on their health care proposals isn’t yet clear.  Right now, they’re damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Recently, CEI’s president Fred Smith wrote an article titled “Change we can really believe in,” which sets out a blueprint to stimulate the economy by liberating it.  Fred must have been prescient when he wrote this on January 4 — before the surge for Scott Brown:

This year holds promise for a new start for America. As 2010 begins, we may be teetering on a cliff, but Americans aren’t lemmings. Support for statist policies is dropping, and taxpayer anger is growing. There is a renewed understanding that the limitations on government of the Constitution are the best protections of our liberties. Their restoration should be the primary hopeful change advanced by all friends of liberty.

Todd Briggs January 27, 2010 at 8:27 am

We all dislike insurance companies, only where would we be if they were not around.

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