This is part one. Click here to read the entire series.
Don’t miss Yuval Levin’s piece in the current National Affairs, “Beyond the Welfare State.”
The piece is interesting and important for many reasons, but not least because of its author’s background: a prominent Bush domestic policy staffer, Levin has spent a lot of time pondering the question: “What is/was compassionate conservatism?”
Based on his new essay, the answer seems to be: compassionate conservatism is kaput.
Instead of the old emphasis on government aid to faith-based charities – government tax support for the poor – and the expansion of government health insurance for the elderly, Levin’s new vision endorses the Paul Ryan idea of radical reductions in government’s social insurance function.
“Beyond the Welfare State” urges a new approach to conservative domestic policy based on 5 key ideas:
1) Lower and flatter tax rates – likely meaning a further tax cut from today’s top rate, along the lines proposed by the Ryan budget plan, with elimination of most deductions, credits, and tax expenditures.
2) Means-testing of all government programs, including retirement security for those under-55s. Again this follows the ideas in the Ryan budget plan, whereby most under 55s will over time lose their claim on most government assistance.
3) Means-tested subsidies to support health insurance for those who cannot afford the full cost, within a marketplace regulated by the states.
4) Radical reductions in domestic discretionary spending.
5) Radical reductions in the administrative power of the state – including its monetary policies, which would adhere instead to fixed and predictable rules.
Levin acknowledges that this program will be politically unpalatable:
It will require extraordinary sacrifices from today’s young Americans, who will need to continue paying the taxes necessary to support the retirements of their parents and grandparents while denying themselves the same level of benefits so their children and grandchildren can thrive.
And since these “extraordinary sacrifices” are joined to a tax cut for high-bracket taxpayers, it’s not difficult to imagine how the plan might meet resistance.
But let’s leave the politics aside and consider the merits:
What to think about such a program as the basis for a new kind of conservatism? What would it accomplish, where would it put us?