Monday, April 18, 2011

David Frum is Coming Around

His positions on the surveillance state and war are terrible, but on economics he seems to be coming around. Here's a quote:

Speaking only personally, I cannot take seriously the idea that the worst thing that has happened in the past three years is that government got bigger. Or that money was borrowed. Or that the number of people on food stamps and unemployment insurance and Medicaid increased. The worst thing was that tens of millions of Americans – and not only Americans – were plunged into unemployment, foreclosure, poverty. If food stamps and unemployment insurance, and Medicaid mitigated those disasters, then two cheers for food stamps, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid.


HispanicPundit said...

This is typical David Frum. He was always more "Greg Mankiw" than "Rush Limbaugh" on economics (by that I mean, educated right of center economists vs mere politicianish talking points).

He gets high praise from liberals like John Chait and Matthew Yglesias all the time for admitting what many economists - both left and right, agree.

The only thing he says that seems really contrary to right-wing wonkish economic circles is his general disdain for immigration. Certainly not this.

Jon said...

He says this is a change of heart. You say no? He's always thought this way?

HispanicPundit said...

On economics, he has always been more moderate. More mainstream...less talking points. He gets high praises on this from liberals. Its his foreign policy that really puts him on the right. Not his economic views. Thats my only point.

Jon said...

He says this is a change of heart. You say no? He's always thought this way?

HispanicPundit said...


HispanicPundit said...

Here is what Frum wrote immediately after the paragraph you posted:

Which does not mean that I have become suddenly indifferent to the growth of government. Not at all. Paul Ryan is absolutely right that the present trend is unsustainable and must be corrected. The free marketeers of the 1980s were right that taxes on enterprise must be restrained to leave room for private-sector-led expansion. Over-generous social insurance has all kinds of negative consequences. Private saving must be encouraged. Work must pay better than idleness. The job of designing the right kind of social insurance state is hugely important and hugely difficult, and the conservative sensibility – with its respect for markets and less sentimental view of human nature – is the right sensibility for that job.

This places him squarely in the center-right economic profession. This is how he has always been!

What he changed his mind about is this, a few paragraphs later (emphasis added):

I strongly suspect that today’s Ayn Rand moment will end in frustration or worse for Republicans. The future beyond the welfare state imagined by Yuval Levin will not arrive. At that point, Republicans will face a choice. (I’d argue we face that choice now, whether we recognize it or not.) We can fulminate against unchangeable realities, alienate ourselves from a country that will not accede to the changes we demand. That way lies bitterness and irrelevance. Or we can go back to work on the core questions facing all center right parties in the advanced economies since World War II: how do we champion entrepreneurship and individualism within the context of a social insurance state?

Those are words I would not have written 15 years ago. I write them now, conscious that I am very far from the first person to write them....

In other words, his "change of heart" is a political one, not necessarily an economic one. He thinks Republicans will not survive continuing to champion the same 'radical' free market views...they must adapt to the political necessities that many people have come to depend and even appreciate the safety nets. We must work within that system is his change of heart.

You probably just glanced over his post or got it from someone else...but read it again, this is what he is saying.

Jon said...

Yeah, I saw that, as well as the following:

I’ll admit: I’ve also changed my mind during this crisis, but in the opposite direction....

The radical free-market economics I embraced in the late 1970s offered a trade: Yes, there would be less social provision. In return, Americans would receive an economy that was simultaneously more dynamic and also more stable.... Some of the terms of that trade were honored. From 1983 through 2008, the US enjoyed a quarter-century of economic expansion, punctuated by only two relatively mild recessions.... New industries were born, new jobs created on an epic scale, incomes did improve, and the urban poor were drawn into the working economy. But of course, other terms of the trade were not honored. Especially after 2000, incomes did not much improve for middle-class Americans. The promise of macroeconomic stability proved a mirage.... [T]he crisis originated in the malfunctioning of an under-regulated financial sector, not in government overspending or government over-generosity to less affluent homebuyers. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were bad actors, yes, but they could not have capsized the world economy by themselves. It took Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, AIG, and — maybe above all — Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s to do that....

The radical free market economic policies he embraced did not produce the expected benefits. Sounds like a change of economic heart that will result in negative political impacts for Republicans if they don't recognize these things. It's about economics AND tactics for Republicans, not merely the later. Bad economics that didn't work are today embraced by Republicans and is a road to ruin. Read Yuval Levin, who Frum is criticizing. He continues to embrace the Ayn Rand position that EU welfare state measures are the problem and must be abolished. No, says Frum. Not only is that wrong economically, it's a road to political ruin.

HispanicPundit said...

But that is different than your quote. Had you quoted that, I would have conceded the point as a (small) change. But you made it seem that David Frums changes were regarding the size of government, welfare, medicare, medicaid etc. He specifically denies that in the next paragraph (while not "worst things" still a problem!).

Like I said from the beginning, David Frum has always been more "Greg Mankiw" than "Rush Limbaugh". He takes the standard economic view, though still right-center. What you quote is still well within that center-right economic view (I bet even Mankiw supports all of the same).

A better summary of his post is this:

The last few years and even decades showed us some surprising things that we wouldn't have expected in the 1970's. While were still on the right path, we need to tweak our political tactics to adapt to those lessons or we will lose politically. I would have never guessed such a change would have been necessary in the 1970's.

Again: I am not arguing that he didn't change his mind on economics (why I said "necessarily" in my previous comment) only that his change of mind is still within a center-right framework. He fundamentally did NOT change his mind on those things that you quoted and gave the impression he changed his mind on. Like: growth of government, or that money was borrowed, or the number of people on food stamps, or etc...'These are still problems, but in a time of crisis they are not the worse problems' is still Frum's message and still keeps him within the center-right framework.

Now, if you find a quote showing Frum supports the UN on its boycott of Israel, or the United States toning down its support of Israel in any real meaningful way, now that would be a real "coming around". This is more of a tactical political change based on current events than anything else. It would be like Krugman saying, "okay, the public option didn't poll well but here is another way to get to the same objective".