Santorum’s Flawed Plan for Working America

January 5th, 2012 at 12:00 am David Frum | 35 Comments |

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In my column for The Week I discuss the problems with Rick Santorum economic plan:

Santorum’s concern for the American middle class has been one of the most attractive features of his candidacy for the Republican nomination. Alone among the Republican candidates, he took note of the freezing of upward mobility and the stagnation of middle-class wages even before the financial crisis of 2008.

So what’s his plan? Santorum has proposed a special lowered rate of federal tax for manufacturing.

A minute’s thought will suggest why this is a poor idea. What is manufacturing anyway? Building a car is manufacturing, obviously. What about building a mobile home? What about building a non-mobile home?

Assembling a computer out of parts is likewise obviously manufacturing. What about assembling a taco?

Clearly, talking on the phone is not manufacturing. What about operating a computer help center? No? But what if the center is operated by the computer assembler? Yes? Okay, now suppose the computer assembler has 80 percent of its staff on the phones, and only 20 percent on the shop floor.

The definitional problems are insuperable, and will only plunge the corporate tax code into ever more fathomless complexity.

Santorum has arrived at this impossible outcome because he has limited his arsenal of policy instruments to one instrument only: taxes, and specifically, the reduction of taxes.

Click here to read the full column.

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35 Comments so far ↓

  • balconesfault

    Besides lowering taxes and gutting regulations, is there any “stimulus” actions by the Federal Government permissible under the current GOP creed?

    Hmmm … war maybe.

  • Graychin

    “Santorum… has limited his arsenal of policy instruments to one instrument only: taxes, and specifically, the reduction of taxes.”

    And this distinguishes him from Romney and the other Republicans… how?

  • drdredel

    David… you can put the gun down now… your boy Romney is clearly the last man (read:clown) standing. Santorum doesn’t stand a chance. The only question that remains now is… what are you going to do about the fact that Romney is just as useless as the rest of the people in the running (and you’ve been bemoaning this reality for months).

    • overshoot

      ++

    • nuser

      Dredel
      Willard is a perfect puppet, and if you don’t think so , he will be happy to change his mind
      on whatever!

    • Rich T Bikkies

      David, will you please address all these issues in a post? The tone of your regular commenters’ postings is getting more and more testy. You are pissing people off. Bad idea!

  • ASmith

    David is right to target health care costs, these affect both the employer and employee and are a huge tax on the middle class.

    However, the solutions seem way out of the ideological space that the current crop of candidates can operate in.

    Note that the “socialized” model of the UK’s NHS is widely supported by the right as well as the left in the UK, and especially by businesses, as it means both reduced costs and more labour market mobility.

    The current situation in the US is the worst of all worlds: businesses pay too much, individuals pay too much, and the government pays too much; and a lot of it is lost on the administration of complex market mechanisms for providing profit margins for a whole horde of brokers and middlemen who add zero value.

    A really good analysis here: http://potentialandexpectations.wordpress.com/2009/08/13/this-americans-experience-of-britains-healthcare-system/

    The sad reality is that the candidates have painted themselves into a corner, with too little flexibility for imaginative policies.

    I guess the best (unlikely) hope is that Romney is just playing along with the script during the campaign, but then shed all the ideological trappings if he gets into office.

    • balconesfault

      I guess the best (unlikely) hope is that Romney is just playing along with the script during the campaign, but then shed all the ideological trappings if he gets into office.

      As I’ve said before – Romney’s slogan should be:

      “In your heart, you know he’s going to be who you want once elected, no matter what he says now.”

    • rubbernecker

      Frum’s right on the money this time.

      But no matter what Romney’s ideology might actually be (lower taxes for me and my peeps!), he would be in thrall to the crazy party once in office. That is all any sober citizen needs to know.

    • overshoot

      I guess the best (unlikely) hope is that Romney is just playing along with the script during the campaign, but then shed all the ideological trappings if he gets into office.

      Put another way, pretty much every Republican figures that Romney is lying to them. 25% are optimistic enough to hope that if he’s elected, it will turn out that he was secretly agreeing with them. The rest (like DF) simply accept that any Republican, no matter how dishonest or insane, is better than any Democrat, no matter how conservative.

      Or, as Decatur might have put it:

      Our Party! In her platforms and policies, may she always be to the Right! But Right, Left, or barking mad, Our Party!

  • SteveThompson

    The one GOP candidate that stands out from the pack for having very modest financial assets is Rick Santorum as shown here:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2012/01/republican-primary-candidates-they.html

    That is, other than the fact that he was paid $896,037 in 2010 for a handful of consulting and media contribution services.

  • Primrose

    Lord knows I don’t want Rick Santorum anywhere near the Presidency, but the first half of the article is weak,weak, weak. I think we could come up with a definition of manufacturing good enough for the IRS.

    His point about health care is valid but I don’t see anyone on the right, even Mr. Frum, coming up with an alternative to Mr. Obama’s plan. If anything they are making the case for single payer, which I don’t see as a Republican plank.

    Really, I think if Mr. Frum wants to support Mr. Romney, the best he can do is simply not give Mr. Romney any coverage. Mr. Romney does not improve on better acquaintance. My husband turned to me the other night and said I used to think Romney was at least OK, but the more I see I really don’t like him. I agree. I get a growing sense of unease about Mr. Romney. I don’t suggest that I think he is particularly evil, but he seems lacking essential elements of humanity.

    • balconesfault

      Really, I think if Mr. Frum wants to support Mr. Romney, the best he can do is simply not give Mr. Romney any coverage. Mr. Romney does not improve on better acquaintance.

      +1

    • Reflection Ephemeral

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

      The uncanny valley is a hypothesis in the field of robotics[1] and 3D computer animation,[2][3] which holds that when human replicas look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers. The “valley” in question is a dip in a proposed graph of the positivity of human reaction as a function of a robot’s human likeness.

    • armstp

      Primrose,

      the more I see I really don’t like him. I agree. I get a growing sense of unease about Mr. Romney.

      And Obama is going to spend $1 billion making sure Americans see as much as they can of Romney. And the funny thing is that Obama and the Democrats only have to let the facts on Romney speak for themselves. There is no need to lie or exaggerate.

  • TJ Parker

    Rick Santorum! keep your hands off my penis!

    • overshoot

      Nice line, but you’ll notice that Santorum’s main concern isn’t with anyone’s penis. He’s much more interested in monitoring women’s vaginas and uteruses along with just about everyone’s anus.

      How he plans to enforce his vision of perfect sex on people’s mouths is something he hasn’t yet disclosed. Maybe like Nixon’s secret plan to get the USA out of Vietnam, he’ll tell us about it only once he’s elected.

  • PracticalGirl

    The critical health-care issue clearly does not engage Santorum, beyond the usual, requisite attacks on “ObamaCare.”

    And that is different from Romney…how, exactly? Be honest. All we’ve heard from every GOP candidate-including Romney- is that their solution is to repeal ObamaCare.

    EDIT_ whoops. Primrose, above, said basically the same thing.

  • Nanotek

    flawed economic plan doesn’t even scratch the surface of Santorum’s bizzaro world in which government has the right to “license” people’s bedroom activities, including outlawing birth control and unmarried cohabitation by couples because sex must be for reproduction only by married couples.

    intrusive conservative government into bedrooms is to go unmentioned apparently … talk of economics is just a deflection from the 800 lb GOP gorilla in everyone’s bed

    Obama cares

  • valkayec

    In these hard times, middle-class Americans need economic solutions, not culture war; they need a program for balanced economic growth, not a tax gimmick.

    Absolutely. So, when will the entire GOP wake up to the fact that the country need economic growth, rather than their culture wars and tax gimmicks? Even Romney has engaged in these tactics, and frankly, I’ve not seen anything great or possible addressing the issue of economic growth coming from his campaign either.

    • overshoot

      So, when will the entire GOP wake up to the fact that the country need economic growth, rather than their culture wars and tax gimmicks?

      Now more than ever!

      The Republican plan for economic growth is in five parts:

      1) Cut taxes for the job creators.
      2) Shut down bureaucracies like the EPA, OSHA, NTSA, FDA, Federal Reserve Bank, SEC, food inspection, etc. that have been blocking the Magic of the Invisible Hand from Making America Great.
      3) Cut wasteful government spending on education, Social Security, health care, and assistance to the poor. This will unleash a tidal wave of highly motivated [1] workers to accept the jobs that the job creators have been trying in vain to fill [2].
      4) Start several new wars. Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, and Venezuela have been uppity for too long. Maybe the new regime in Egypt, too — they’ve apparently forgotten who’s in charge. Then there’s France …
      5) Pray. It’s about time we put God in charge of the country again. Once we’re all back on our knees [3], God will reward the previous four programs by showering us with prosperity.

      [1] Read, “starving”
      [2] Read, “fighting over crusts of bread in dumpsters.”
      [3] Indefinite detention is a useful tool for bringing to their knees anyone who doesn’t get with the program.

      • balconesfault

        what’s amazing is how many ways they have to say the above … and how many ways the media tries to obscure the message for them so that voters don’t realize what it means.

  • ottovbvs

    “Assembling a computer out of parts is likewise obviously manufacturing. What about assembling a taco?”

    Occasionally Frum makes an unbelieveably dumb statement and this is one of them. There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about Santorum’s suggestion so I guess Frum thinks he has to attack Santorum because he’s showing strength against Romney. Frum seems blissfully unaware that states frequently give income tax breaks to manufacturers to attract them into setting up in-state manufacturing operations and of course at the federal level there are a host of more sophisticated manufacturing tax breaks many of them revolving around depreciation or investment allowances. Defining who is and is not a “manufacturer” is not particularly difficult, goes on all the time and generally does not include food retailers like Chipotle. There are more effective ways to stimulate manufacturing than with tax breaks but the idea is neither particularly crazy or unusual.

  • PracticalGirl

    Santorum has arrived at this impossible outcome because he has limited his arsenal of policy instruments to one instrument only: taxes, and specifically, the reduction of taxes.

    And Romney, who lists TAX CUTS as numero uno on his jobs plan, is different…How? Both Santorum and Romney list several economic measures they plan to take, and yet both consistently bang, bang, bang on what appears to either be their number one priority or the best way to pander to their one-note, dogmatic base…or both.

    Frum, you can do better. Currently, you’re conducting your blog in very much the same fashion as a talk radio show. Long on rhetorical attacks, short on actual fact.

    • MSheridan

      Yeah, if you want to go after Santorum (not that it really seems necessary), simply quote his interview the other day where he said he’d completely defund federal funding of contraception and saw no reason states couldn’t completely ban it. Not ban abortion, ban contraception. Then just sit back and watch.

      http://thinkprogress.org/health/2012/01/03/396516/santorum-states-should-have-the-right-to-outlaw-birth-control/

      Or do you think (and you’re in a better position to know, I guess) that this would be a be vote-getter for him in the GOP base?

      • Clayman

        ^ +1 MSheridan
        By GOP base do you mean the entire base or just the so-called “Conservative Ignoramus”?

        • MSheridan

          Entire base. Frum is an GOP apparatchik and longtime pundit who has spent his life largely in the attempt to influence said base–he’s got to be aware that Santorum’s most radical positions are probably too radical even for most of that crowd. Anti-gay bigotry, clumsy appeals to racism, and (to a lesser extent) defunding the safety net may all sell, but banning contraception? I really don’t think so. But Frum would (should) know for sure.

        • Clayman

          MSheridan, thanks–> you are so right.

  • jakester

    Well at least he has a germ of a good idea. But like the rest of them, he refuses to accept that it was LACK OF REGS that melted the markets down

  • Hunter1

    I’m hearing chatter about a coming revolt by “values conservatives.” Seems they cannot stomach Mitt no matter how hard they try. So, next on deck: the swiftboating of Santorum by the moderate country club gang. Watch Frum do his part.

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