Thursday, March 31, 2005

On Rhetoric

LG&M writes:

I think this is something that progressives need to pay more attention to. Mark Smith, a UW political scientist, has spent a lot of time looking at back copies of the National Review to study conservative rhetoric on tax policy. In the wake of Goldwater, conservative arguments in favor of tax cuts tended to be libertarian ones, linking tax cuts with increased freedom. Particularly starting with Reagan, the libertarian arguments became much less prevalent, and were largely replaced by arguments linking tax cuts to economic growth. The latter strategy had significantly more public appeal. It's important, therefore, for progressives not to concede the premise that tax cuts produce economic growth; the evidence for this is, to put it mildly, weak.

The empirical case against the link between economic growth and tax cuts does not, of course, end the policy debate. The fact that the American economy prospered when the top marginal rates were essentially confiscatory does not, in itself, justify confiscatory tax rates (which I generally oppose as well.) But if conservatives are forced to defend tax cuts in libertarian terms, they will lose most of the time. The fact that the Bush tax cuts didn't come anywhere close to producing the job growth their advocates claim, for example, is something that progressives can't emphasize enough.

The shift in rhetoric had a lot to do with the stagnation, decline, and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Back in the day, conservative rhetoric about the Soviet Union was focused primarily on its lack of individual freedom, and not on the inferiority of Soviety-style communism as an economic system. Enemy #1 can't be much of a problem if it's an economic basketcase. And, remember, in the 70s there were pretty big concerns about the state of American capitalism.

The success in selling the idea that the level of the top marginal tax rate, which impacts a small percentage of the population, has some giant impact on the aggregate economy is stunning.