Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Economically to the right... Socially to the left

"I'm economically to the right... but socially to the left", someone recently told me at a party. Hilarious.

She's probably a Schwarzenegger Republican. Came out against Proposition 8. Supports stem cell research, some aspects of the recent health care reform, and climate change legislation. Perhaps she believes in a woman's right to choose. Not so bad.

"Economically", she probably believes in unfettered free-marketism. She wants lower taxes, fewer governmental employees, and less "red tape". She probably has a knee jerk reaction about wasteful Democrats and thinks that Republicans are somehow more trustworthy on economic issues.

This last assumption is a little debatable. Historically, Democratic presidents tend to be more effective in combating unemployment (see Bureau of Labor Statistics). Even Obama's administration, after months of plummeting payrolls, has seem some improvement (see the "bikini" graphic here). Similarly, under Democratic leadership, despite common knowledge about wasteful "entitlement programs", federal debt has generally decreased (see historical data in recent federal budget).

There is some disagreement on how important these numbers are. Although a number of fiscal conservative disagree, Dick Cheney famously once said that "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter." Not sure what he meant by that, but conservative think tanks would probably say that the best way to combat debt is to grow the economy and to cut "entitlement" programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

Now, another name for these "entitlement" programs is social programs, because they provide social services which go beyond what the free market can provide. In that these programs take care of people who cannot take care of themselves, these programs reflect our social values. I am not saying that keeping social programs solvent is easy, but I do think we need to be reminded that they exist for a reason. Poverty, health and old-age are social issues not purely economic realities.