Thomas Friedman’s friends appear to be disgusted with American politics. They have concluded that the two parties think only of reelection and their special-interest constituencies. They cannot imperil their chances of reelection by doing the four things -- spend, cut, tax and invest -- that must be done simultaneously “if we have any hope of maintaining American greatness.”
Friedman’s disgusted friends are looking for a serious Third Party candidate to “deliver shock therapy to the corrupt, encrusted, two-party duopoly now running the show in America.”
In my vocabulary “shock therapy” describes a rapid course of transition from planned socialism to capitalism. Therefore, I expected more than I got from Friedman’s shock therapy, which consists of the following four points:
1) More stimulus to keep the economy from slipping back into recession.
2) An accompanying credible long-term plan for spending and deficit reduction — e.g., the Simpson-Bowles deficit-reduction plan.
3) New revenues (a gas tax and a carbon tax) to “reinvest” in education, infrastructure and government-funded research to push out the boundaries of knowledge.
4) Assorted other things like “shrinking” our presence in Afghanistan and raising mandated mileage standards on new cars.
Friedman opines that his hypothetical “spend, cut, tax and invest” platform is sure to attract his reasonable, sophisticated, and intelligent friends from both sides of the aisle.
I interpret it as a platform that elected liberals are too cowardly to pass for fear of voter backlash.
Why is this program the liberal Holy Grail?
Friedman’s “spend, cut, tax and invest” raises government spending now (bigger government), despite the failure of the massive fiscal and monetary stimulus of the past few years. (If once you do not succeed, try, try again). In return, Congress adopts Simpson-Bowles, which cuts spending and deficits over the long run (and perhaps never) by a combination of spending cuts and, yes, TAX increases.
But wait: Friedman is talking about cuts in “spending” not in “investment.” Government spending on research, infrastructure, green technology and other fads in liberal favor can boom because of new dedicated revenue from national gas and carbon taxes. No, the gusher of new tax revenue will not go into deficit reduction but into new windmills, bullet trains, and studies of the sex habits of mice, without which our economy cannot survive in the twenty-first century. I guess, in Friedman’s mind, we will have no innovation, no technological progress unless it is ordered and paid for by the state.
Friedman’s “spend, cut, tax and invest” is nothing more than a stealth program for ever larger and more intrusive government, in which the liberal state can pass out favors to its crony capitalists and labor allies.
A truly bold Friedmanian Third Party candidate could set the gas and carbon taxes high enough to raise total government spending to half the economy. With this accomplishment, we can at last join the genteel European brotherhood of enlightened welfare states, and Thomas Friedman can return to foreign affairs, where he belongs.