Posted by AzBlueMeanie:
I posted about this political science truism the other day (h/t Ezra Klein) Still true after 40 years: Voters prefer cuts in theory, spending in practice:
In 1967, the political scientists Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantrill wrote that Americans were “ideological conservatives” but “operational liberals.” What they meant was that when asked broad questions about how government should work and what it should do, voters responded like conservatives. But when asked operational questions about which programs should be cut and which services should be eliminated, they responded like liberals. Voters like big cuts and smaller government in theory, but they don’t want to actually cut anything in practice.
This leads to cognitive dissonace between what people tell pollsters, and what they really desire. It also distorts sound public policy debate. Greg Sargent addressed this recently in The Morning Plum: A nation of Keynesians:
As many have pointed out, the House progressive budget — which calls for substantial new spending to create jobs and defers deficit reduction until later — has been almost entirely marginalized from the Washington conversation. Instead, the outer ideological poles of the debate have been defined by the budget from Senate Dems, which contains as much in spending cuts as it does in new revenues — and a tiny fraction of stimulus spending as an afterthought — and the Paul Ryan budget, which purports to rapidly slash the deficit only through huge spending cuts and contains nothing in new revenues or spending.
In this context, it’s interesting that a new Gallup poll finds that public support for new federal spending to create jobs is simply overwhelming. Large majorities — and even majorities of Republicans — back the jobs creation policies Obama proposed in 2011 and renewed in this year’s State of the Union Speech:
* 72 percent support a “federal government program that would spend government money to put people to work on urgent infrastructure repairs.” This is also backed by 71 percent of independents and 53 percent of Republicans.
* 72 percent support a “federal jobs creation law that would spend government money for a program designed to create more than 1 million new jobs.” This is backed by 69 percent of independents and 52 percent of Republicans.
Public support for these ideas is high even though the questions explicitly use the phrase “spend government money.” Gallup notes: “Job creation proposals enjoy widespread public support, including majority backing among all party groups, even when the issue of government spending is raised in an era when deficit reduction is one of the major priorities for the federal government.” (Conservatives will object to the question wording, but many economists agree that those proposals would create jobs.)
At the same time, the public has been very clear on its desire to see the tax code made marginally more progressive, through new revenues derived from nixing tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations. Yet the progressive proposal, simply because it can’t get through Congress, is not widely treated as “serious” or discussion-worthy. Meanwhile, the core proposals in Ryan’s fiscal blueprint — which would dramatically roll back the safety net and other government programs, while slashing tax rates on the rich without saying how that would be paid for — are deeply unpopular and mathematically questionable. Yet his plan is accorded significantly more attention (even though it, too, is a nonstarter) and deference (though that’s beginning to change).
Obviously Americans regularly tell pollsters they are deeply worried about the deficit and want spending cuts in the abstract. But that changes quickly when you talk specifics, particularly when it comes to retirement programs. And the above Gallup numbers reveal a public that’s receptive to the idea that government spending can create jobs. This, combined with other polling on taxes, drives home what Matthew Yglesias wrote the other day: The progressive vision — invest more now in education and infrastructure to boost the economy, defer dealing with the deficit until we’re on stronger economic footing, and raise taxes and cut defense so the burden of regaining fiscal balance doesn’t fall too heavily on the poor and elderly — really isn’t all that marginal or off the wall. As Yglesias notes, it may never happen, but that doesn’t make it a “wild and crazy dream.”
Unfortunately the current makeup of Congress has defined the choice we face as one between “balanced” austerity (a mix of spending cuts, including to entitlements, and tax hikes) and deeply unbalanced, ideologically unhinged austerity (the Ryan plan). But for the purposes of discussion, it doesn’t have to be this way. Our fiscal debate is deeply out of whack, and the progressive budget deserves to be taken seriously.
The austerians are strangling economic growth and job growth — just look to the failed austerian experiment in Europe — recession and high unemployment. Yet we continue to commit to an entirely disproved and discredited economic theory. We are having the wrong conversation in public policy debate.