During my reading this morning my mind was confronted with a number of concepts, premises, and arguments. In the article titled “Vladimir The (Not So) Great” I learned about Russia’s non-exceptionalism. After reading this I do think Russia, and Putin in particular, has America envy. I understand that Russia wants to establish its own identity, and not be consumed by the west, but the question of Russian uniqueness in history has been debated for many years. “As the great 19th-century Russian satirist Mikhail Saltykoz-Shchedrin wrote: They [the powers that be] are talking a lot about patriotism – must have stolen again.” I am wondering if Putin’s focus on Russian exceptionalism in history is a smokescreen for what he has stolen?
Then there is the commencement speech given by Michael Bloomberg, former New York City Mayor, given on May 29th at Harvard University. Bloomberg attacked the current tendency of higher education to eradicate opposing viewpoints. He argued that “Repressing free expression is a natural human weakness, and it is up to us to fight it at every turn. Intolerance of ideas – whether liberal or conservative – is antithetical to individual rights and free societies, and it is no less antithetical to great universities and first-rate scholarships.” I agree with this argument and his warning about censoring those ideas we don’t agree with. He called it the New McCarthyism, and if anyone has seen the pictures of the anti-communist witch-hunt that occurred in the 50’s realize how serious this danger is.
However, where I want to focus my attention this morning is the idea of a Gladstonian Republican proposed by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. They wrote about the need for the Republican Party to reinvent itself as an expression of William Gladstone.
The authors of this article argued that the Republicans need a big idea, a positive message, because if they don’t the party is heading for a disaster. According to this opinion article the authors pointed out that due to the current administration’s inability to manage its business, a counter-narrative could be very successful, but without clarity of the narrative election results will be the same as the last two elections. They argued that the counter-narrative that would best provide success would be an adaptation of the Gladstonian narrative of the 19th century Prime Minister of Great Britain.
The authors described what this would look like. “Imagine that the world’s superpower reduces the size of government by a quarter over the next 30 years, even as the population grows by 50%. Imagine further that the superpower performs this miracle while dramatically increasing both the quality of public services and the nation’s diplomatic clout. And, imagine that the Republican Party leads this great revolution while uniting its manifold factions behind one of its favorite words: liberty.” Hmm, very interesting!
Gladstone led a 19th century revolution that lowersedtaxes in 1846, while the government built more and better schools, hospitals, sewers, and police forces. “The Victorians paid for these useful new services by getting rid of what they called old corruption (and we could call cronyism) and by exploiting the new technology of the day, like the railway.”
Gladstone believed in “no taxes,” but also recognized that this was not practical. However, he worked to create lower taxes that would allow money to “fructify in the pockets of the people.” Gladstone worked hard to eliminate waste in government spending, which helped him find the money he needed to build the services needed to help the poor. Therefore, what are the lessons from this 19th century exemplar that we should pay attention too?
First, defeat cronyism. Gladstone worked to eliminate the governmental benefits for East India Company, sugar makers, and British landowners. Second, concentrate the state on what it needs to do. “Gladstone would concentrate money on the poor, targeting the welfare state for the rich. More money goes to the top 5% in mortgage-interest deductions than to the bottom 50% in social housing. He would set about reforming entitlements to make sure that they are fundable.” Third, simplify government. “The aristocrats who ran the country wanted to conceal the fact that most government spending went to support their relations in the form of sinecure, church livings, pensions, and ceremonial jobs.” Fourth, take the state seriously. To do this Gladstone would make the state as small as possible but focus it and make it work a well as it can. Fifth, put the state on the side of business creation. This does not mean giving large corporations tax breaks only to have the corporations move its operations overseas. It means creating a level playing field that will allow business to flourish in this country, thus putting people to work. Lastly, make the state humble and dowdy. Maybe the word frugal would be better.
I don’t know if we can actually accomplish this, and I am still intrigued with the idea of the Nordic Model of capitalism, but the definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing but expecting a different result. It ain’t going to happen.
And that is my thought for the day!