Drowning the government in this hasn't worked. (wikimedia)
If conservatives were right, there would be an easy remedy for our ailing economy.
The current conservative approach to fixing our finances relies on a simple theory: rich people and corporations are the ones who create jobs for everyone else. Therefore, in times of high unemployment, the best way to create more employment is to ensure that the wealthy become even wealthier so that they will feel comfortable spending the money on creating jobs. And in turn, that goal can be accomplished through a series of tax cuts aimed at corporations and wealthy individuals, as well as through eliminating regulations that hamper employers in their quest for maximum profit. Conservative economics also stipulates that public spending distorts the free market and thus interferes with private growth; therefore, spending on things outside of absolute necessities such as national defense should be curtailed. This applies especially to entitlement spending that does not allow the market to determine winners and losers to its full potential.
To nobody's surprise, conservatives are proposing exactly this, though with a boldness rarely before seen. In the past, they were always more wary of exposing their true colors, presumably fearing a populist electorate that would not be too keen on eliminating programs that guaranteed a dignified retirement to fund more tax cuts for the wealthy. These were policy initiatives that either had to be chiseled at from the edges or passed more surreptitiously. The 2010 Republican wave election changed that mentality, however; Paul Ryan is openly promoting an evisceration of Medicare, while House Republicans are touting their "recovery" package as a "plan for America's job creators."
The GOP's problem goes beyond the fact that America is not ready to accept what conservatives believe is a badly needed better medicine and might punish them at the polls for offering it; the larger inconvenience is that their ideology is demonstrably wrong.
It goes without saying that economic growth is affected by many factors, but if higher marginal tax rates were always as strong an impediment to growth as conservatives claim, and if spending cuts were always as much an enticement to growth as they claim, the economy should be going gangbusters–especially compared to periods in American history that conservatives often dream of reliving. Much to the chagrin and total embarrassment of Reps. Darrell Issa and Lee Terry, Americans are on average paying the lowest tax rates in 60 years–lower, even, than those under the practically beatified conservative icon Ronald Reagan. Yet the economy is limping along and job growth is weak.
American corporations are also netting record profits. If conservatives were right, these American job creators would be using their already enormous cash reserves to grow their businesses and create jobs for the rest of us. But they're not, choosing instead to plow their cash into mergers, acquisitions and divided distributions rather than hiring back laid-off workers. Similarly: if conservatives were right and drastic cuts to public spending were the solution to financial trouble, then Great Britain would be on its way to recovery after the austerity measures put in place by the Tory government. But the situation across the Atlantic is arguably worse than before.
Low tax rates. Profits for so-called "job creators." Spending cuts. The three things that conservatives say are most necessary for achieving a healthy economy are all occurring at historic levels. If conservatives were right, there could be no way that the economic situation could be this bad on either side of the pond. But it is, and that leads to one inescapable logical conclusion: conservative economic policies are not good for job creation or the overall economy.
Having established that conservatives are wrong, where do we go from here? "What works" seems like a reasonable alternative. And what works? Public investment in infrastructure and preparing our country for the future. It's a method with a proven track record: the much-maligned stimulus is universally agreed to have created around three million jobs. President Obama's decision to have the Treasury intervene to support "Big Three" automakers saved a staple of American industry and allowed those companies to restructure themselves to become profitable. As a result, the once-ubiquitous shouts of "Government Motors" have been silenced.
But that doesn't change the situation in which progressives currently find themselves. Conservative solutions have been proven to be objectively inadequate, while the only solutions that have been proven to be even remotely effective are the only ones that are considered unthinkable. This is partially the result of the fact that these conservative policy nonstarters receive constant promotion on their own personal propaganda network, and the fact that we have a president who seems unwilling to tolerate too much success. But just as important is the failure to have a unified message that touts not just the contrast between conservative and progressive economic theory, but touts the shocking difference in the results of the implementations of these competing theories just within the past few years.
If you're in a recession and you want to create jobs, progressive solutions that invest in infrastructure and put people to work are the answer. Conservative trickle-down solutions do nothing, or make the problem worse. So choose the progressive solution. And on the way, you just might get cleaner air and water, faster commutes, better schools and more livable communities. It's not really a hard decision.