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One of the penalties for refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors. -- Plato (429-347 BC)

Wednesday, March 02, 2016

A Mystery Worthy of Sherlock Holmes... Cruz, Rubio: Why The Missing Prosperity Crusade?

by Ralph Benko, Contributing Author: It's a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes.

Most of the Republican presidential aspirants, mysteriously, are not focusing on the issue that all of the polling shows at the top of voter concern: restoring prosperity. This, not Donald Trump (who hits the theme rather brilliantly although his proposals to restore prosperity are pure Jabberwocky), is the real wrecking ball of this election cycle.

What’s going on? Elementary, Watson.

In the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of Silver Blaze, Conan Doyle presented a conversation between a Scotland Yard detective and Holmes:
Gregory: ‘The dog did nothing in the night-time.’
Holmes: ‘That was the curious incident.”
Why aren’t the Republican candidates crusading for prosperity? Holmes: “Obviously the midnight visitor was someone whom the dog knew well.” So too do the candidates know, or believe they know, the "midnight visitor" behind our “sclerotic growth.”


And the candidates cannot bear to criticize that midnight visitor, their presidential predecessors. Follow along.

A handful of supply-side thinkers have been calling persistently for the presidential candidates to do the apparently obvious: crusade for equitable prosperity. One would think that an across-the-board prosperity theme would be immensely popular with candidates. All the polling, plus the outcomes of the early nominating contests, confirms it is immensely popular with the voters.

Elementary! And yet… crickets. Why?

Recently, in The Weekly Standard, veteran Jack Kemp and Ronald Reagan advisor Jeffrey Bell (a professional colleague of mine) wrote Sanders, Trump Get Votes Because They Have Answers to Economic Stagnation. The headline doesn’t quite catch Bell’s point, which was not that Sanders and Trump “have answers” but rather because they are asking the right questions. Bell:Most conservatives believe Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have wrong solutions to the stagnation in wages and job creation that has marked the American economy since 2000. But Trump and Sanders have proven better vote-getters than conservative candidates because, politically speaking, having wrong answers to a real and widely felt evil is better than offering no answers at all.

The last several Republican debates have been remarkable for the virtual absence of discussion of economic policy, other than Trump’s attacks on establishment lobbyists and donors and demands for “better deals” with our trading partners. It’s true that economic-related questioning by the various debate moderators has been minimal, but that doesn’t explain the non-Trump candidates’ failure to inject the issue on their own initiative.

The conservative candidates and their advisers are well aware from all polling, public and private, that the mediocre state of the economy is a predominant issue among voters, even at times when such events as acts of mass terrorism or the opening of a Supreme Court vacancy dominate the headlines and spike voter concern. That the conservative candidates don’t bring up the economy likely reflects a belief that they don’t have persuasive ideas for accelerating wage and job growth, or perhaps that voters are not smart enough to understand the various ideas they may have but fail to highlight.
Bell’s observations about the absence of economic growth policy are dead on. His proposed resolution of the mystery, that the candidates lack confidence in their prosperity formulas or in the voters, is plausible yet not quite compelling. There is a stronger explanation.

Meanwhile, more protests from the Supply-Side! Reagan administration economic policy veteran Lawrence Kudlow, in National Review, writes A Growth Message, Not Catfights, Will Propel the GOP to November Victory:
In the week leading up to the New Hampshire primary, a few GOP candidates put forth a strong, positive, optimistic message of economic growth. Donald Trump did it, and it contributed to his landslide. John Kasich did it, and he surged to second place. Jeb Bush put his best growth foot forward, and he nearly took third place. Others, not so much, and their numbers sagged. Growth is the number-one issue of this presidential campaign....The Wall Street Journal’s Bill McGurn, writes Grow, Baby, Grow!Why can’t Republicans talk about economic growth the way Bernie Sanders talks about his potted socialism or Donald Trump about making America great again: with an enthusiasm that connects with ordinary Americans?Stephen Moore, of the Committee to Unleash Prosperity has written prolifically, in many venues, about the imperative of economic growth. Moore, together with Arthur Laffer, co-architect of the Reagan tax-rate cuts demonstrably instrumental in leading to sizzling growth, wrote the flat tax plans for Senators Cruz and Paul.

Forbes Media’s own Chairman and Editor-in-Chief Steve Forbes has coauthored and published, in the past two years, two elegant, compelling books laying out credible growth recipes: Money: How the Destruction of the Dollar Threatens the Global Economy – and What We Can Do About It and Reviving America: How Repealing Obamacare, Replacing the Tax Code and Reforming the Fed will Restore Hope and Prosperity.

I too have written, repeatedly, on the "curious incident" of the candidates' failure to crusade for prosperity, noting recently:
Shrewd candidates would make prosperity the keynote of every speech and every comment and every commercial between now and the end of the primaries. And, then, in the general election.

What is unfathomable about Cruz is that he has dealt himself a royal flush while Donald Trump is holding, at best, a pair of deuces. Cruz has presented the most impressive proposal in the field for creating a roaring Reaganesque recovery. Yet Cruz is not materially campaigning on it.
All of these counsels of prosperity seem to have fallen on deaf campaign ears. Odd.

What’s really going on?

There is a deeply tribal quality within both political parties. This is an anthropological, and ethological, not a sarcastic, observation. As I wrote here in Homo Politicus: Why Washington Never Learns:
Washington is all about social dominance, not competence. There is a famous anecdote about Ronald Reagan. When told that he was running for governor of California, Jack Warner reportedly said, “No, no, Jimmy Stewart for governor; Ronald Reagan for best friend.” Reagan was a magnificent president. … But Reagan never was a ranking member of the species of homo politicus. Thus, no matter how great his successes in economic and foreign policy it just never occurred to Official Washington to learn from him.It is considered unseemly, and deeply so, to criticize one’s Tribal Elders. This factor was made vivid by Sen. Rubio’s effusive defense of President George W. Bush in the South Carolina debate:I just want to say, at least on behalf of me and my family, I thank God all the time it was George W. Bush in the White House on 9/11 and not Al Gore. … I am forever grateful to what he did for this country.The sense of unseemliness about criticizing the (respectively disappointing and catastrophic) economic records of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush (and, on the Democratic side, Barack Obama’s worst recovery since World War II) has been paralyzing the candidates' growth narrative.

There may be a way out of the paralysis-by-unseemliness for the candidates. As I elsewhere have written:

A feckless Fed torpedoed the economy under both Presidents Bush and Obama. As The Washington Post’s Ylan Q. Mui noted in Why nobody believes the Federal Reserve’s forecasts the Fed has gotten 50 out of 50 of its last economic forecasts badly wrong. If the National Weather Service had a track record that bad heads already would have rolled. The Fed enjoys a strange impunity.

Reagan and Clinton’s robust job growth occurred under the Volcker-Greenspan “Great Moderation.” That policy was abandoned around the year 2000 thrusting America into a miserable “boom-and-bust” cycle.

The sign on President Truman’s desk, “The Buck Stops Here,” in a very literal sense applies. Still, the buck — Federal Reserve Notes — starts at the Fed. The candidates’ tax plans also are relevant to economic growth. But monetary policy is paramount.
Criticizing the tribal elders — past (or incumbent) presidents of one's party — is unbearable for Homo Politicus. Yet there is another clear way for the candidates to crusade for economic growth that avoids the unseemliness.

Lay the blame where it belongs: on the feckless Fed that torpedoed their predecessors’ economies. Ted Cruz has established poll position by advocating making the dollar as good as gold. That said, holding the Fed to account for economic stagnation is an open option for all candidates, Democratic as well as Republican.

The Fed even now is causing an implosion of commodities prices and, with that, the threat of a recession (or worse). Putting the blame where it belongs, on the Fed, does not impugn the reputation of either former Republican, or the incumbent Democratic, president.

Candidates, eyes to the Fed.

The buck starts there.
-----------------
Ralph Benko is senior advisor, economics, to American Principles in Action's Gold Standard 2012 Initiative, and a contributor to the ARRA News Service. Founder of The Prosperity Caucus, he was a member of the Jack Kemp supply-side team, served in an unrelated area as a deputy general counsel in the Reagan White House. The article which first appeared in Forbes.

Tags: Ralph Benko, The Fed, Cruz, Rubio, missing prosperity crusade, Sherlock Holmes To share or post to your site, click on "Post Link". Please mention / link to the ARRA News Service. and "Like" Facebook Page - Thanks!
Posted by Bill Smith at 11:59 AM - Post Link

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