Spain’s Postmodern Socialism

A discussion of Spain’s financial woes blames in part Prime Minister Zapatero’s postmodernist worldview:

Economists both inside and outside of Spain had been warning for many years that the country’s construction boom was unsustainable, and that urgent measures needed to be taken to diversify the economy and to make it more competitive.

Instead, Zapatero wasted valuable time and energy denying that there actually was a problem. Spanish Socialists, like many postmodern relativists, believe that all problems are by definition imaginary and can be wished away by avoiding negative thoughts. In an effort to downplay the scale of Spain’s economic troubles, the Socialist government has established a seven-year track record of using an arsenal of postmodern euphemisms to avoid unpleasantries and to create a virtual Spanish reality.

In an interview with the Socialist mouthpiece El País, for example, Zapatero famously asserted that the idea that Spain was actually in trouble was “opinionable” and said that “it all depends upon what we mean by crisis.” He said that those warning about an impending economic crisis were being “unpatriotic” and that such talk was a “fallacy, pure catastrophism.” Zapatero also warned: “Let’s not turn economic forecasting into a fetish.” Think positive, he said: “To be optimistic is something more than a rational act. It is a moral requirement, an act of decency and, if I may say so, elegance.”

After Zapatero was finally badgered into using the word “crisis” in a late-night television interview, when a journalist read him the word’s dictionary definition, his government tried to pin the blame for Spain’s self-inflicted economic woes on a foreign scapegoat. Spain’s industry minister said Spain was facing an “imported problem.” The deputy prime minister blamed Spain’s problems on “radical liberalism,” which in euro-speak means the free market. The labor minister blamed “the neo-conservative thinking preached by U.S. President George W Bush, which has resulted in capitalism without ethical limits.” Zapatero himself blamed “the neo-conservative model based on capitalism without borders nor limits nor ethics.”

In February 2010, Zapatero blamed Spain’s economic crisis on an “Anglo-Saxon” conspiracy and ordered his country’s intelligence agency, the National Intelligence Center (CNI), to investigate whether the Americans and Britons were conspiring to undermine the Spanish economy. . . .

Up until the austerity measures recently foisted upon Spain by international investors, one of Zapatero’s main diversionary tactics had been to try to shield Spanish voters from exposure to the reality of market economics. In doing so, he has gone on a seven-year spending spree that has left Spain deeply in debt.Just one example: Zapatero’s 2008 re-election promises totalled €22 billion, or a whopping 2.1 percent of Spain’s GDP. For the 1.7 million Spaniards eligible to vote for the first time, for example, Zapatero promised rent subsidies, and for the under-30s he promised to build 150,000 low-cost homes. In a bid for the female vote, he proposed that working women should pay less tax than men. And for low wage earners, he promised to exempt them from paying income tax altogether.

Zapatero also promised to raise pensions and the minimum wage, to create 300,000 new child care slots, to increase autonomy for the region of Catalonia, to financially compensate companies that adapt their working hours to those of schools, and to provide new fathers with one month of paternity leave.

In an effort to reverse Spain’s demographic crisis, Zapatero launched the so-called “cheque bebé,” a government scheme to bribe Spanish parents into having children by paying them €2,500 ($3,500) for every newborn baby. As a sop to the environmentalist greens, Zapatero also promised to plant 45 million new trees (at one for each Spaniard, the Socialists will have to plant 30,821.9 trees every single day for the next four years). Another €3.5 billion would go towards the postmodern-sounding “Liberty, Coexistence and Rights in a Globalized World.”

via Pajamas Media » How Postmodern Socialism Destroyed Spain.

Is this happening here?

President Obama’s deficit-reduction plan

It’s basically to raise taxes:

President Obama called for cutting the nation’s combined budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 12 years on Wednesday, countering Republican budget plans with what he said was a more balanced approach that relies in part on tax increases for the wealthy as well as on spending cuts.

Mr. Obama spoke in strikingly partisan tones in parts of the 43-minute speech, offering a blistering critique of the Republican approach to reducing the deficit and laying down political markers that are sure to please even his most skeptical Democratic allies. The president vowed not to extend tax cuts for the wealthy or to dismantle the government-run health care systems for the elderly and poor. And he said there was “nothing serious or courageous” about the proposals Republicans offered this month.

Still, as he laid out the administration’s opening bid in negotiations over the nation’s fiscal future, Mr. Obama conceded a need to cut spending, rein in the growth of entitlement programs and close tax loopholes. At the same time, he insisted that the government must maintain what he called investment in programs that are necessary to compete globally. And he made clear that, despite his compromise with Congressional leaders in December, he would fight Republicans to end lowered tax rates for wealthy Americans that have been in place since President George W. Bush championed them in the last decade.

“There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” Mr. Obama said of budget proposals put forward by Republicans in the House. “There’s nothing courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill. And this is not a vision of the America I know.”

In his remarks, delivered at George Washington University, Mr. Obama offered an impassioned defense of the popular Medicare and Medicaid programs against Republican proposals for sweeping changes in them. “We are a better country because of these commitments,” he said. “I’ll go further — we would not be a great country without those commitments.”

To the likely disappointment of some of his most liberal supporters, though, Mr. Obama signaled that he agreed with Republicans about the need to cut spending.

He acknowledged that some people would oppose cutting spending now, “mostly folks in my party,” the president said. “I’m sympathetic to this view, which is one of the reasons I supported the payroll tax cuts we passed in December. It’s also why we have to use a scalpel and not a machete to reduce the deficit.”

“But doing nothing on the deficit is just not an option,” he said.

Among his proposals is a “debt fail-safe” mechanism that would force lawmakers into much more severe action if the deficit has not contracted significantly by 2014.

The provision would impose across-the-board cuts on most government programs, officials said, adding that it was intended to provide an incentive to motivate potentially reluctant lawmakers to take difficult but necessary steps.

via Obama’s Deficit-Cutting Plan Balances Cuts With Tax Increases – NYTimes.com.

So do you think this approach will work?  Is this better than Paul Ryan’s plan?

On the Ryan plan

Charles Krauthhammer defends Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which Democrats are decrying in apocalyptic terms for the way it slashes the budget, even though that will not be enough to balance the budget until 2040!  That’s how bad our deficit is!

The conventional line of attack on Ryan’s plan is already taking shape: It cuts poverty programs and “privatizes” Medicare in order to cut taxes for the rich.

Major demagoguery on all three counts.

(1) The reforms of the poverty programs are meant to change an incentive structure that today perversely encourages states to inflate the number of dependents (because the states then get more “free” federal matching money) and also encourages individuals to stay on the dole. The 1996 welfare reform was similarly designed to reverse that entitlement’s powerful incentives to dependency. Ryan’s idea is to extend the same logic of rewarding work to the non-cash parts of the poverty program — from food stamps to public housing.

When you hear this being denounced as throwing the poor in the snow, remember that these same charges were hurled with equal fury in 1996. President Clinton’s own assistant health and human services secretary, Peter Edelman, resigned in protest, predicting that abolishing welfare would throw a million children into poverty. On the contrary. Within five years child poverty had declined by more than 2.5 million — one of the reasons the 1996 welfare reform is considered one of the social policy successes of our time.

(2) Critics are describing Ryan’s Medicare reform as privatization, a deliberately loaded term designed to instantly discredit the idea. Yet the idea is essentially to apply to all of Medicare the system under which Medicare Part D has been such a success: a guaranteed insurance subsidy. Thus instead of paying the health provider directly (fee-for-service), Medicare would give seniors about $15,000 of “premium support,” letting the recipient choose among a menu of approved health insurance plans.

Call this privatization if you like, but then would you call the Part D prescription benefit “privatized”? If so, there’s a lot to be said for it. Part D is both popular and successful. It actually beat its cost projections — a near miraculous exception to just about every health-care program known to man.

Under Ryan’s plan, everyone 55 and over is unaffected. Younger workers get the insurance subsidy starting in 2022. By eventually ending the current fee-for-service system that drives up demand and therefore prices, this reform is far more likely to ensure the survival of Medicare than the current near-insolvent system.

(3) The final charge — cutting taxes for the rich — is the most scurrilous. That would be the same as calling the Ronald Reagan-Bill Bradley 1986 tax reform “cutting taxes for the rich.” In fact, it was designed for revenue neutrality. It cut rates — and for everyone— by eliminating loopholes, including corrupt exemptions and economically counterproductive tax expenditures, to yield what is generally considered by left and right an extraordinarily successful piece of economic legislation.

Ryan’s plan is classic tax reform — which even Obama says the country needs: It broadens the tax base by eliminating loopholes that, in turn, provide the revenue for reducing rates. Tax reform is one of those rare public policies that produce social fairness and economic efficiency at the same time. For both corporate and individual taxes, Ryan’s plan performs the desperately needed task of cleaning out the myriad of accumulated cutouts and loopholes that have choked the tax code since 1986.

Ryan’s overall plan tilts at every windmill imaginable, including corporate welfare and agricultural subsidies. The only thing left out is Social Security. Which proves only that Ryan is not completely suicidal.

But the blueprint is brave and profoundly forward-looking. It seeks nothing less than to adapt the currently unsustainable welfare state to the demographic realities of the 21st century. Will it survive the inevitable barrage of mindless, election-driven, 30-second attack ads (see above)? Alternate question: Does Obama have half of Ryan’s courage?

via After Ryan’s leap, a rush of deficit demagoguery – The Washington Post.

Who won in the budget showdown?

The Republicans, according to this analysis, got the better of the budget negotiations:

HR1 was originally to seek spending cuts of $32 billion until Tea Party conservatives insisted on more than $ 60 billion. House Speaker John Boehner won more cuts than he originally sought and got the Senate to agree to votes to defund the health care reform law and groups like the nation’s largest abortion provider Planned Parenthood – once votes Senate Majority leader Harry Reid said he’d never allow to come to the floor.Back on February 3, Reid called $32 billion in cuts “extreme” and “draconian.”

At a news conference New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., agreed, “I happen to think some of their cuts are extreme and go overboard. But every week they keep upping the ante and proposing extreme cuts.”

Over the next decade the cuts are expected to save hundreds of billions of dollars.

The deal mandates a host of studies and audits of Obama administration policies. It also blocks additional funds for the IRS sought by the Obama administration and bans federal funding of abortion in Washington, D.C.

The history of offers on this bill goes something like this. Democrats first offered no cuts, then $4 billion, then $6.5 billion, then $33 billion, then settled at $38.5 billion.

Boehner made numerous adjustments to his offer in recent days too, but started at $32 billion, then with a Tea Party push went to $62 billion, then dropped to $40 billion, then $38.5 billion.

Democrats claimed they met Republicans halfway after the $10 billion in cuts that already passed this year were approved. They settled late Friday night at three and a half times more.

Boehner came in $8.5 billion higher than the halfway point between his high offer of $61 billion in cuts and the Democrats opening bid of zero cuts.

via Who Won the Shutdown Showdown? It Wasn’t Even Close – FoxNews.com.

Shutdown averted

Republicans and Democrats made a deal at the last minute that will keep the government running:

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have reached an agreement that would avert a federal government shutdown, yielding more spending cuts for Republicans while giving Democrats a key win on an issue related to abortion rights, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office announced Friday night.

The deal to fund the federal government for the next five months will include $39 billion in spending cuts and will drop language related to Planned Parenthood. Lawmakers still need to approve a short-term stopgap funding bill before midnight, when the federal government will run out of money and cease operations.

The stopgap bill will allow lawmakers time to craft the longer-term, complicated budget for the rest of 2011.

via Congressional leaders review draft budget agreement that would avert shutdown – The Washington Post.

A perspective on the shutdown

Former Bush official Peter Wehner offers reasons why Republicans should not let the government shut down:

On the matter of a possible government shutdown, this needs to be said: The impasse is the product of a striking failure of governance by President Obama and his party.

Republicans are winning the fiscal debate. A government shutdown could cause a backlash.The reason we’re debating the 2011 budget several months into the fiscal year is because for the first time in almost four decades, Congress failed last year to propose a budget. Despite Democratic control of both houses and the executive branch, Congress failed to meet one of its most basic obligations. That said, those Republicans who are eager for a showdown and a shutdown of the federal government are making a serious strategic mistake.

First, the cuts and concessions Republicans have already secured will return domestic discretionary spending to pre-Obama levels. This is a fairly remarkable achievement, and conservatives would be silly to ignore it.

Second, President Obama, in matching spending cuts that Republicans asked for earlier this year, has positioned himself fairly well in terms of blaming the Republicans for a shutdown, if it happens.

Third, the difference between the two sides is less than $10 billion in a $3.5 trillion budget. This isn’t a difference over which it is worth shutting down the federal government.

Fourth, Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, submitted a budget for fiscal year 2012 earlier this week that saves more than $4 trillion over the next decade. It’s a political and intellectual document of enormous significance, easily the most comprehensive and impressive governing blueprint in generations. The Ryan plan is where Republicans should focus their energy and attention.

via Not Worth the Showdown – Room for Debate – NYTimes.com.


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