Posted by: Jeff | October 11, 2010

Fiscal Liberalism?

Ezra Klein recently plugged a proposal by liberal think tank Third Way that is raising a lot of eyebrows among libertarians.  The proposal, which would create a tax receipt itemizing how an individual’s taxes are spent by the federal government, would be a remarkable step forward in transparency.  Many suspect that this itemization would lead to real outrage, as people become aware of just how much of their money is going to specific programs.

Libertarians believe that this knowledge would lead to a more concerted push for reduced spending, especially on big ticket items like Medicare and Social Security.  To their surprise, Klein not only agrees, but hopes this will be the case:

Libertarians shouldn’t act so surprised that a center-left think tank is proposing something that might spur people to cut government spending. Both the Obama and Clinton administrations went to enormous trouble to develop health-care proposals that would pay for themselves and cut both the government’s and the system’s overall rate of spending. We can argue over whether the proposals will (or, in Clinton’s case, would’ve) worked, but there’s no doubt that the Obama administration fought for the excise tax on high-value health-care insurance and the Independent Payment Advisory Board because they think the proposals will work. By contrast, the Bush administration added a prescription drug benefit to Medicare and did nothing at all to pay for it.

I think this is generally correct – progressives seem to be increasingly cost-conscious in policy proposals, and stream-lining government efficiency is a growing project among those on the left.  The right continues to have political ownership over the deficit issue – a fact that could in part be caused by the term ‘fiscal conservativism’ itself.  With Republican candidates paying mere lip-service to deficit reduction, and the Obama administration seeking to reduce largesse and improve efficiency whenever possible, is it time to revisit the nomenclature we use?


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