The Political Forum
Red and Blue State Blues
Political experts of all shapes, sizes, and political predispositions are currently fixated on the notion that the November midterm elections will decide the fate of the nation. If the Democrats take the House and/or the Senate, then the Trump anomaly will be vanquished. All will be put right with the world. Or, conversely, if the Republicans win, the country will be plunged into civil war as the Dems move aggressively against the duly elected President of the United States.
None of this is surprising, of course. Drama sells. But reality is often far removed from the drama.
There’s no question the midterms are important, but the fact of the matter is that the nation’s fate will not be decided in Washington. As we have said many times over the years, Washington is simply the place where the score is kept. The real war over the country’s future is being fought in the states.
Nearly eight years ago, we noticed a “war for resources” that was just then starting to heat up in the states and municipalities. This war, we said, was caused by the inability of government to sustain itself in its bloated condition. At current levels of taxation, there simply are not enough resources available to maintain the condition in which governments at every level try to be everything to everyone. Something would have to have to give, we wrote:
Gird your loins, ladies and gentlemen, and beat the drums of war. It is coming. As surely as the sun rises in the east and Bill Clinton digs interns, war is coming. And as war always is, it will be ugly and destructive. And when it’s over, everything will have changed. This won’t be a war against a foreign aggressor or an existential and nebulous attacker. It will be a war within the states, a civil war. And like the previous civil war, it will pit brother against brother and father against son. The hostilities will rage for years and will destroy families, friendships, and maybe even governments. . .
Like nearly all wars throughout history, this one will be about resources and their scarcity. As the resources run out, competition for them will increase. And as competition increases, hostilities will commence. Truth be told, they’ve already begun. The proximate cause of this war – or wars, really – will be the inability of government to sustain itself in its current bloated condition. The fact of the matter is that government at all levels in this country has grown too large too fast and will simply be unable to maintain its massive girth. At current levels of taxation, there simply are not enough resources available to maintain the bloat that plagues the federal and especially the state and local governments. Something is going to have to give.
As for what will “give,” there are handful of possibilities. It is possible that the electorate will give (and give . . . …and give) in the form of substantially higher taxes. If this is the case, then the war will rage primarily between the public sector and the private sector, between the bloated Leviathan and the productive economy. Taxpayers will rebel. Governments will fall. Businesses will move. Jobs will be lost.
It is also possible that the operators of said governments will choose instead to make those within the public sector give, by compelling them to accept force reductions, lower wages, and reduced pensions and other benefits. In such a case, the combatants will primarily be government bureaucracies, fighting each other and fighting elected officials for the spoils – though it should be mentioned that there will be a great many innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire as well. Regarding this, we would do well to remember that Government exists to serve the community that established it, and when government suffers, as it most certainly will throughout this war, the community will suffer with it.
Five days ago, Ed Kilgore, a liberal writer and former Democratic political operative, gleefully wrote about a handful of teacher protests and strikes that are ongoing in various Red states. He put it this way:
Eight Kentucky school districts — including those in Louisville and Lexington — are closed today as teachers stay home to protest the GOP legislature’s destructive “reforms” of their pension system. Oklahoma teachers are planning to strike on Monday despite winning a $6,100 pay raise. And Arizona teachers rallied at the state capital on Wednesday and are threatening to strike if their demands for major pay raises and restoration of education funding cuts are not met.
As this wave of unrest among teachers spreads nationally, it’s clear it has been inspired by the nine-day strike that won West Virginia teachers (and other state employees) a pay raise earlier this month. But there’s something more fundamental going on than copycat protests. We’re seeing a teacher-led backlash against years, and even decades, of Republican efforts at the state level to cut taxes and starve public investments….
Asking Republican legislators to “stop cutting taxes” is a demand many of its objects would consider outrageous, even unnatural. But this collision is a reminder that GOP claims that tax cuts at the state as well as the federal level would pay for themselves by generating sustained economic growth have once again proved faulty, with public education being the primary victim of chronic budget shortfalls….
Perhaps the current wave of teacher protests and strikes will subside as the school year ends. But more likely, it will spill over into the election season this fall, when 36 governorships and most of the national state legislatures are up for grabs.
If you’re wondering why Kilgore is so giddy about this, that last paragraph is the important bit. He – and many others on the Left – see everything in terms of politics. And in this case, he thinks that teachers and students being unhappy is great for Democratic campaigns.
Maybe he’s right. Who knows? Nevertheless, we’d like to make a couple of points. First, the number of Republicans who claim “that tax cuts at the state as well as the federal level would pay for themselves” is far fewer than the number of Democrats and journalists who claim that Republicans claim “that tax cuts at the state as well as the federal level would pay for themselves.” This is a trite, decades-old liberal talking point that is mostly false. Supply-siders have long argued that incentives matter. And because incentives matter, “static scoring” of tax cuts is less than useless.” Very few conservative economists or elected officials actually pretend that tax cuts will pay for themselves. But apparently, this little bit of nuance is lost on those who have a political axe to grind.
Second, and more to the point, this teacher unrest is precisely what we had in mind when we made our war for resources prediction. The red states have made choices. The Left sees these choices as pitting Republicans against education. But that’s not quite the way it works. The former Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn has argued that his state could “find $500 to $700 million” if it wants to and could “give every teacher a $7,000-per-year raise,” if the state would just fix bureaucratic bloat and spend its revenues more wisely. In this case then, Oklahoma’s problem may, at least in part, be a matter of bloated government against education; or big government against taxpayers and teachers. The way the Left chooses to define the problem is purely self-serving.
The point is that these resource clashes are not going away. Some of the nation’s largest and most important states are in serious fiscal trouble. Public pensions funds, police forces, fire departments, schools, you name it, are face to face with disaster. There’s a war underway out there in the real world. Washington is able to avoid getting drawn into this war for one reason: it has a printing press that cranks out the world’s default currency. The states do not. The outcome of this war will ultimately decide whether the United States goes the way of its banana republic neighbors to the South or accepts the pain that is the inevitable consequence of massive fiscal irresponsibility.