Entries Tagged as 'Tim Pawlenty'

The Real Pawlenty Never Campaigned

August 15th, 2011 at 12:45 pm 12 Comments

The tritest cliché in American English is the injunction to “be yourself.”  Despite this, an entire industry of political consultants devotes itself to teaching candidates how to be anyone other than themselves.   Such is the unhappy fate of Tim Pawlenty.

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Who Do I Support with Pawlenty Gone?

August 15th, 2011 at 1:00 am 49 Comments

I have been supporting Tim Pawlenty for president this go round.  Now it appears I have to find a new candidate.

My reasons for supporting him were that he was from a Democrat leading Midwestern state and had run a generally conservative administration. He seemed like a serious man with a nice family and solid accomplishments.

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The Straw Poll Scam

August 14th, 2011 at 12:10 pm 74 Comments

Why doesn’t the national Republican Party discourage the presidential hopefuls from participating in the Ames Straw Poll? While the benefits of this event to the Iowa GOP are perfectly clear, I don’t see any benefits to the party as a whole, and there may even be some harm.

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The GOP Primary is Now Serious

David Frum August 12th, 2011 at 10:37 pm 325 Comments

This is the week that the U.S. presidential race got serious.

The joke candidacy of Donald Trump has crashed and burned. The early assumption that Barack Obama would enjoy an easy “morning in America” re-elect has also crashed and burned. After the market turmoil this week and after Texas Governor Rick Perry’s expected entry into the GOP race Saturday, here’s where we stand.

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Pawlenty Can’t Afford His Foreign Policy

July 2nd, 2011 at 12:39 am 26 Comments

GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty recently called for $2 trillion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses in the next decade, as well as two to three times less federal spending – cutting a total of $8 trillion.

But on Tuesday, Pawlenty expressed his foreign policy plans to remain involved in the Middle East – to “seize” the opportunity “amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring” and to “help promote freedom and democracy.”

The GOP candidate said America should stop “leading from behind” and be more active in regions like Libya, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia.

However, the cost of the U.S. campaign in Libya is expected to exceed the $750 million Pentagon estimate set out in March. Taxpayers are spending $2 million a day to support the African nation – and all this while “leading from behind.” At the current expenditure, the U.S. will spend almost $1 billion on its Libya mission.

Pawlenty’s campaign spokesperson refused to comment on how the candidate plans to fund even more overseas missions while also cutting government spending.

Economics columnist Bruce Bartlett said his foreign policy corresponding to his economic policy is “possible – but it’s also possible that pigs will grow wings.”

A president has limited power in controlling the budget. Pawlenty would require Congressional approval to make such drastic cuts in both taxation and spending, which Bartlett said is “absurdly unrealistic.”

Taking stands that separate him from other candidates may appeal to some portion of the Republican electorate, which could give him the much-needed popularity he is lacking – even if it’s from Tea Partiers, Bartlett said.

However, Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council advisor to Clinton and Bush, said that ignoring problems abroad will just bring them home, so Pawlenty has the right idea by addressing the importance of U.S. involvement in the Middle East.

“I wouldn’t say that he is focusing so much on the Middle East as the Middle East is focusing on us,” said Feaver, who is now a professor at Duke University. “I would say in the long run the Republicans are not going to win in the general election by running on the left of Obama on foreign policy.”

Feaver said he did not know enough about economics to analyze if Pawlenty’s plan is feasible, but he did say “a crucial part ofPawlenty’s stance is that you have to rebuild the economy and get it growing again and his plans and ambition on the foreign policy side is predicated on [that].”

Feaver said the perceived mood of the Republican party is war-weariness and a desire to retreat from the Middle East, but even though “being strong on national security doesn’t capture the way the mood seems to be recorded,” the last century of history shows that few international problems have been solved without help from the United States.

“The lesson since World War II is that American leadership is important,” he told FrumForum, “There are few problems that got better with America ignoring them, and few that got solved by others stepping up and letting America ‘lead from behind.’”

But looking at the numbers, Pawlenty’s foreign and economic policies do not seem compatible.

Federal Budget Analyst Andrew Fieldhouse said that Pawlenty’s tax plan does not compute with his spending plan because the GOP candidate has endorsed a federal balance budget amendment towards capital expenditures of 18 percent GDP. Currently, federal spending is close to 24 percent. His revenue plan would lose 7.6 trillion dollars of revenue. According to his plan, revenue would only be 14 percent of GDP, and after subtracting the three percent interest rate, there would only be 11 percent of GDP for actual government spending.

“At that point you could theoretically continue large military presence overseas and his extensive foreign policy, but it would crowd out huge areas of the federal budget,” said Fieldhouse.

The government would have to reduce the Congressional budget, eliminate Social Security, federal retirement, foreign subsidies, federal health expenditure, non-interest government spending and 10 percent of the economy over the next decade.

“It doesn’t seem feasible to me,” he told FrumForum. “He has a delusional approach to budgeting. I don’t think he’s thought any of this through.”

Budgeting 18 percent of the economy (which the Ryan plan proposes) is always difficult, but possible. However, budgeting 11 percent of the economy for federal spending, while having a large military presence overseas – is near impossible, said Fieldhouse.

A recent Gallup poll shows that Pawlenty’s name recognition among Republicans has risen to 57 percent, but his Positive Intensity Score is 8 – his lowest to date. To prevent his popularity from decreasing, he needs to increase his appeal to voters.

When asked if he thinks Pawlenty is using his foreign policy stance to stand out from other candidates, Feaver said that Tuesday’s speech truly reflects his views.

“I think this doesn’t reflect a tactical positioning of himself to appeal to the primary voters so much as this is what he actually believes is good for American national interests,” he said. “And that’s an important distinction – some candidates will take a stand because they’re trying to triangulate some primary voting blocker.”

“Since the [Tea Partiers] make no demands on their ideological leaders to be logically consistent or have numbers that add up, he doesn’t feel like he has to conform to that requirement either – so he just says whatever he thinks will be popular,” said Bartlett.

Can Reagan Legacy Bridge GOP Generation Gap?

June 26th, 2011 at 11:45 pm 45 Comments

In the run-up to the GOP primary season, the name of a president who left office 21 years ago is being invoked almost as often as the incumbent’s by Republican candidates eager to style themselves as heirs to Ronald Reagan.

Tim Pawlenty and Newt Gingrich have both compared their tax plans to President Reagan’s economic policies. Jon Huntsman not only announced his primary bid at Liberty Park — coopting the same backdrop Reagan used to kick off his 1980 campaign — but also issued a photograph of himself as an awestruck twentysomething student standing side-by-side with his political idol. And Mitt Romney recently penned an op-ed celebrating the centenary of the 40th president’s birth.

However, it remains unclear how well these efforts are playing with one key constituency: young voters.

“Reagan was someone we read about in text books,” said American University College Republican Eric Reath. “I don’t remember the first GOP president of my lifetime — George H. W. Bush — either.

“My generation will always have the memories of George W. Bush, but that isn’t to say we don’t recognize the importance of Reagan. He was a good man and a great president, but not terribly relevant to my generation.”

Reagan was popular among young voters – 24 percent of those who elected him to a second term in 1984 were in the 18-29 age group. Only 20 percent of the 18-29 demographic were Republicans in 1980 – but this number rose to 28 percent during his reelection campaign, indicating how his strong economic and national security policies combined with his sunny disposition drew a new generation of supporters into the GOP fold.

Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the non-partisan Cook Political Report, said GOP candidates are referencing the Reagan legacy in their campaigns to try and replicate the same positive emotions his 1981-89 presidency generated. But none of the current crop of hopefuls have either the same credentials or personal charisma which allowed the former two-term California governor to stir the political passions of young people more than 20 years ago.

“Do any of these candidates resonate with [today’s young voters]? I think citing Reagan generates a lot of good feeling and some good will, but I think it’s very hard to fill his shoes,” said Duffy. “When somebody has died, the legacy is impossible to match.”

Duffy said even though his legacy has been inflated since his death, Reagan was “an ideal president” [in the sense he] was a Republican with cross-party and cross-demographic appeal who attracted large numbers of Democrat and independent voters in both 1980 and 1984.

“He was probably not a pure conservative, but pure enough – the right didn’t have any real problems with him,” said Duffy. “I suspect that is what someone like Huntsman is trying to accomplish [by modeling his campaign launch on Reagan's].”

The Reagan references are constant reminders of a time of economic renewal and a reinvigorated sense of national purpose in America – a period the 2012 GOP candidates are implicitly suggesting they could reproduce if elected to the Oval Office next year.

“I think it’s an effort to draw peoples’ minds to a candidate who is truly successful, to draw back to a time when things were better,” said Duffy.  “I think everyone could stand a little dose of ‘morning in America’ right now.”

One young Republican said even though she did not live through the Reagan era, the former president stands on a pedestal in the conservative popular imagination –  idolized by GOP voters regardless of their age.

Amy Farina, Vice President of DC College Republican Women, told FrumForum that “being able to claim the Reagan legacy is strategic for the candidate’s campaign because the majority of Republican voters are always looking for the next Reagan.”

But her view is not shared by all young GOP voters. Jeremy Rozansky, an officer in the University of Chicago’s University Republicans, says because he was born during the first Bush administration, he’s “not constantly going back to the Reagan years with any sort of nostalgia.”

He wants to avoid focusing too much on Reagan’s post-Vietnam and post-Watergate policies of the 1980s because they do not apply to today’s world.  What he hopes for from the current crop of presidential aspirants are measures suited to modern conditions.

Instead of citing economic programs designed to combat the hyper-inflation of the late ’70s and early ’80s or military strategies predicated on containing the expansionist threat of the Soviet Union, contemporary conservative politicians should be pursuing Reagan’s general goals of “‘peace through strength’ foreign policy, pro-growth tax reform, and the incorporation of religious conservatives as a voice of conscience” in ways which take present circumstances into account, Rozansky said.

Reagan’s main domestic-policy accomplishment was a set of tax cuts that included a reduction in the top marginal rate from 70 to 50 percent, a measure Rozansky says shouldn’t be used as an “exact template.” He also backed then-Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker’s efforts to curb inflation and made the GOP more friendly to social conservatives. In foreign affairs, he launched a massive defense build-up in order to bankrupt the Soviet Union by forcing Moscow to compete and many conservatives credit him with paving the way for the end of the Cold War.

“When I talk to other young conservatives, most people recognize that you can’t look for the second coming of Reagan,” he said. “The general attitude of young conservatives toward Reagan is admiration, but not obsession.”

The GOP candidates’ Reagan-based appeals “won’t matter much to [younger voters], since they come across as paying lip service,” Rozansky said. Instead, he “wants to know who Mitt Romney is – I know he’s not Reagan.”

Margaret Hoover, author of the forthcoming American Individualism: How a New Generation of Conservatives Can Save the Republican Party, agrees. “Most 30-and-unders weren’t even alive when Reagan was president,” she told FrumForum. So “the constant harkening back to Reagan fails to resonate with youth, while our Republican elders bask in the dwindling twilight of the Reagan Revolution. Youth need a new ‘Great Communicator’ … and he can’t have just posthumously turned 100.”

Peppering stump speeches and campaign literature with Reagan analogies will not appeal to the younger generation who have only read about the 40th president in textbooks, said student Eric Reath, 20.

“These candidates are diverting in policy from Reagan, the great Republican hero, mostly on national security and defense issues,” he said. “Although they try to align themselves with him, it doesn’t impact who I support in this race. I know that they are just trying to compare themselves with him in order to garner broader base support.”

But although today’s young voters did not live through the Reagan years the accomplishments he is known for resonate in many of their minds.

“Anyone who wants to be president would really reach to aspire to Reagan’s standard,” said Chris Edwards, chair of the board of advisors of the New York Young Republicans. “He has a bipartisan legacy” – a potentially crucial trait when it comes to winning the 2012 election.

Will Pawlenty Be Pressed On Economic Plan?

David Frum June 16th, 2011 at 1:19 pm 16 Comments

The day after the New Hampshire Republican debate, Tim Pawlenty made the rounds of the morning talk shows to answer questions about his debate performance.

Much of the questioning focused on Pawlenty’s decision to back off his criticisms of Mitt Romney’s Massachusetts healthcare plan.

Less attention has been paid to a question that probed even deeper into the heart of the Pawlenty presidential campaign: doubts about the realism of Pawlenty’s economic plan: massive tax cuts to produce five percent growth.

Here was Pawlenty’s answer to that question on Fox & Friends:

Pawlenty: I say it’s not only achievable but it’s needed. It’s backed up by Larry Kudlow, John Taylor, the economist at Stanford, and Steve Forbes and others. We have to get this country moving again. We have a country stuck in neutral or reverse and we have to put it in drive or overdrive. President Obama is someone who accepts an anemic level of growth. He doesn’t even have a plan. You can’t find him on what he’s going to do about government spending reform and he doesn’t have a plan to get the economy moving. The plan that he did try failed, and now we have to try something different. What I’m proposing is to grow the economy by shrinking government.

Pawlenty offered a fuller statement on CNN.

And respected economists like John Taylor at Stanford, by the way, Steve Forbes wrote yesterday that my plan actually would work and five percent growth is achievable but it starts with this premise — what we’re doing now isn’t working. President Obama’s got the country on the wrong track. Millions of Americans are hurting and are underemployed or unemployed. And we need to try something positive and optimistic about job growth in this country. My plan lays it out. I’m the only one in the race with a plan, and I presented that last night. But it includes massive tax cuts to try to stimulate the economy, it includes reducing spending, but also regulatory reform, permitting reform energy reform, health care reform, and if you do those things and shrink government we will grow the private economy and grow jobs in this country. Reporter: The question was asked but I will ask you again, I know there were six other people on the stage with you last night, why didn’t that work in the Bush era then? With the massive, massive tax cuts that obviously didn’t lead to job growth or we wouldn’t’ be at 9.1% unemployment right now. Pawlenty: If you look back at the history of tax cuts under John Kennedy, under Reagan, under President Bush, the second, you just isolate on the effects of those tax cuts, they do grow government revenues and they do stimulate the economy. But you’ve got to also look at what else happened during those eras. We’re not proposing to also raise government spending. We want to reduce government spending and reform government in a more pro jobs, pro growth direction. And if you do that you’ll have a better result. And the folks who have looked at my plan, like I said John Taylor, Steve Forbes, these are credible, seasoned people, said not only is it going to work, but it’s necessary to get the country out of the doldrums that President Obama has us in.

Pawlenty here relies heavily on the argument from authority: Kudlow, Forbes and Taylor. Of these three, it is John Taylor who has had the most sway. But notice : Taylor did not in fact say that five percent growth for 10 years was achievable. He said on his blog that five percent for 10 years was a worthy target to aspire to — rather different.

I think the goal makes a great deal of sense. It would focus policymakers like a laser beam on the great benefits that come from higher growth and on the pro-growth policies needed to achieve it. As with any goal, if you take it seriously, you’ll choose policies that work toward that goal and reject those that don’t.

And who would disagree with that?

T-Paw: Don’t Ask Me About Pawlentycare

June 14th, 2011 at 5:59 pm 9 Comments

Tim Pawlenty has been on the offensive about Mitt Romney’s healthcare record.  But even as he derides “Obamneycare,” Pawlenty continues to delay the release of a plan to replace Obama’s healthcare reform and has said little about his own record on the issue.

The reason for this is simple: it’s not very good, especially next to Romney’s.

T-Paw and Romney both assumed office in 2003, at which point 7.4 percent of Massachusetts residents and 7.2 percent of Minnesotans lacked health insurance. Both rates were well below the national average.

By the end of 2008, the proportion of uninsured residents in Massachusetts had dropped to 2.6 percent and has since fallen to 1.9 percent. Granted, Romney left office in January 2007, but almost all of the drop can be attributed to his healthcare reform. Minnesota is a different story: in 2009, 9.1 percent of the population was uninsured, a substantial increase.

Now, T-Paw does have slight edge in ideological purity, as a smaller proportion of Minnesota residents are enrolled in some form of public healthcare and there is no individual mandate.  In 2009, 30.3 percent of the insured in Massachusetts were covered by a public plan, including Medicare, whereas the same proportion was 28.7 percent in Minnesota. However, Minnesota is more directly involved in the administration of healthcare than Massachusetts.  Minnesota owns 29 percent of all hospitals in the state, while Massachusetts owns just three percent.

The most important differences between the two former governors’ healthcare records lie in their states’ reactions to the recession.  As unemployment skyrocketed in 2008 and 2009, unemployed Minnesotans simply flooded the public healthcare rolls.  In Massachusetts, where the jobless rate reached an even higher peak (9.1 percent to 8.9 percent), employers actually covered an increasing proportion of the insured (66 percent-67 percent).  Romney’s system actually deflected some of the costs of covering the newly insured away from the government while continuing to extend coverage.

What did Pawlenty do in Minnesota? Well, as more Minnesotans lost their jobs and the associated employer-provided healthcare, they became a burden on the state budget. So T-Paw simply ended a low-income healthcare support program.  After a prolonged battle with the state legislature, Pawlenty eventually signed a bill reinstating a stripped-down version of the program, but this approach revealed his overall healthcare strategy.

Romney is right to worry about his reform being linked to Obamacare, but he should not be bashful about his record on coverage and cost-control. Romney enacted a system that allowed unemployment-stricken Massachusetts to maintain near-universal coverage without busting the state budget. T-Paw allowed a wasteful status quo to persist until it eventually reached unsustainable costs and he was forced to cut instead of reform.

If Republican voters want a President with a credible replacement for Obamacare, they would be wise to vote for record, not rhetoric.

Pawlenty’s Growth Rate: Too Good To Be True

June 8th, 2011 at 10:33 am 32 Comments

In his economic policy address Tuesday in Chicago, Tim Pawlenty set a goal of 5% economic growth. By setting out such a rosy projection he may be repeating one of President Obama’s biggest mistakes: promising voters targets he can’t reach.

Pawlenty’s always struck me as a reasonable candidate. Even though it’s unlikely he’ll beat Obama (can anybody?), he’s also unlikely to hurt Republican candidates down ballot (as opposed to some of the more colorful GOP presidential contenders). That’s why I was disappointed by his economic speech in Chicago. I understand that he has to pay lip service to various segments of the Republican base; I just wish he didn’t so far in doing so. In the speech’s vaguer sections I wished he were more specific. But whenever he actually went into specifics, I instantly wished he had remained vague.  That’s never a good sign.

In his address, Pawlenty started off well, but strangely missed a chance to make his indictment of Obama’s economy even stronger by mentioning a serious chronic unemployment problem rather than just the overall high level of unemployment. He then made a major unforced error by setting a 5% economic growth goal. Why not 6%? Why not 10%? If you are going to dream, dream big!

Pawlenty himself acknowledged that neither the Reagan boom nor the Clinton boom actually produced sustained 5% growth, although both came close. It sounds a bit arrogant when he asserts that he can do better than Reagan. More importantly, it sets him up for serious political problems in the future. Obama is in more trouble than necessary right now precisely because he claimed that his stimulus would allow the unemployment rate to climb to only 8% instead of 10% – which it rose to anyway. Why emulate him?

Furthermore, it’s likely Democrats will attack the 5% target as impossible, Pawlenty will be forced to defend it, it will become his signature issue, and then, if he actually wins, he’ll spend his reelection campaign in 2016 trying to explain why the economy only grew at 3% (if he’s lucky!) rather than the promised 5%.

More importantly, does Pawlenty actually know how to do it and can he sell the recipe to voters? He offered very ambitious tax cuts (once again trying to outdo Reagan by lowering the top marginal tax rate to an even lower level than Reagan did). Only in the first four years of the existence of the personal income tax was the top marginal rate even lower than the one Pawlenty has proposed: 25%. He has also proposed a big cut in corporate taxes and elimination of the inheritance tax and taxes on capital gains and dividends. I have absolutely no objection in principle to any of these ideas. But I have two questions.

1) How do we know these tax cuts will in fact trigger a much higher growth rate? The 25% rate was in effect in 1925 – 1931, and the economic record of that period is rather mixed, to put it charitably. Most of the Reagan boom occurred at a time of the 50% top marginal tax rate (in effect 1982 – 1986), while the further reduction to 28% in 1988 was in fact soon followed by an economic slowdown and a shallow recession.

2) How will a huge reduction in tax revenues be offset? Pawlenty didn’t offer any new taxes on consumption (say, VAT or carbon tax) to go along with his elimination or reduction of taxes on investment and work. And nobody outside the Tea Party is going to buy the myth that tax cuts pay for themselves (especially given that in the case of complete elimination of investment taxes that argument can’t be made with a straight face).

But maybe Pawlenty has a plan for huge spending cuts, making tax revenue offsets unnecessary? Well, this brings me to the most depressing part of the speech. Apart from mentioning block-granting Medicaid to the states and raising the Social Security retirement age, Pawlenty was very vague on spending cuts. That isn’t necessarily bad, since spending cuts are unpopular, and it may not be a good idea to give one’s opponents material for attack ads. But Pawlenty also fully embraced the pernicious idea of the balanced-budget amendment.

Furthermore, he proposed “that Congress grant the President the temporary and emergency authority to freeze spending at current levels, and impound up to 5% of federal spending until such time as the budget is balanced.” Besides the questionable constitutionality of this idea, just how on earth is he going to freeze spending at current levels? 10,000 baby boomers apply for Social Security and Medicare every day. As the cost of their benefits is rapidly increasing, a real spending freeze would mean deep cuts elsewhere to offset the benefits costs.

Where exactly would those cuts happen and why can’t we just go straight to those cuts without all this gimmickry? Or does Gov. Pawlenty mean to freeze spending on everything other than retirement and healthcare (and, of course, national debt service and a couple other items)? In this case, he sounded a lot like Monty Python: “All right, but apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

That proposal was immediately followed by a bizarre claim: “As an example — cutting just 1% of overall federal spending for 6 consecutive years — would balance the federal budget by 2017.” Actually, the deficit is not 6% of the federal budget – it’s about 40% this year. Granted, economic growth will reduce the deficit a lot – but not that much. Besides the immediate political problems now, Pawlenty’s claim that he can balance the budget by 2017 will surely come back to haunt him if he wins and then runs for reelection amid reduced but still huge deficits.

His comments on regulations made good points. But it’s a little misleading to say that “federal regulations will cost our economy $1.75 trillion this year alone” without providing any breakdown. I would bet that the bulk of these costs come from just a handful of regulatory areas – clean air, clean water, food safety, drug safety and transportation safety. There’s no political support whatsoever for, say, allowing factories to dump toxic waste into rivers again. So Pawlenty needs to be careful about realistic economic effects from feasible deregulation. Just as with his 5% growth target, it is better to under promise and over deliver than the other way around.

His thoughts on trade and money bordered on incoherent – a fine example of trying to offer something to everyone, without any regard for internal consistency. Pawlenty promised to double exports – but he also wants a strong dollar. Even worse, these contradictory statements were separated by only three sentences. If you have to contradict yourself, at least give your listeners more time to forget your first statement!

Pawlenty also strongly opposed quantitative easing and implied that the Fed printed money “with reckless abandon”. This isn’t junt an unwarranted slander, but also very short-sighted rhetoric. If Pawlenty becomes president, it will be because the economy in late 2012 was still very bad. And, we may still face a danger of deflation in 2013, perhaps forcing President Pawlenty to print money “with reckless abandon.”

Gov. Pawlenty also said that “Inflation cruelly undermines the life savings — and life prospects of every American.” Actually right now the life prospects of millions of Americans are cruelly undermined by deflation – deflation in housing prices. Maybe Gov. Pawlenty knows a lot of people who keep their life savings in the form of cash in a mattress, but most Americans have most of their life savings in assets that are fully inflation-protected – houses and stocks (in 401(k) portfolios). Furthermore, Americans currently carry a lot of debt (this, in fact, is the primary reason for the mess we are in). A little inflation right now could be quite beneficial to most middle class Americans.

Gov. Pawlenty needs to develop a better economic platform and tell hard truths to the Republican base. And when he absolutely has to pander, he needs to learn to do that without compromising either his appeal in the general election or his ability to govern if elected. His speech showed he still has a way to go.

T-Paw Needs More Than Google to Cut Deficit

June 8th, 2011 at 8:09 am 9 Comments

I like Tim Pawlenty’s economic plan a little better than David Frum. Although they aren’t revolutionary, I’m happy to cheer for most of his ideas on the revenue front including lower corporate taxes (although it would be better to eliminate them entirely), a zero capital gains tax, and the adaptation of a nearly flat tax on personal incomes.  That said, T-Paw’s ideas for true cutbacks in government are awfully vague. One that’s been singled out for a lot of criticism is his proposal for a so-called “Google test.” The test, essentially, is the idea the government shouldn’t provide any service that can be found through Google. And it was a target of leftwing blogs from the moment he proposed it.  In fact, however, what Pawlenty calls the “Google test” is a good, sensible idea although hardly a panacea for government spending.

Let’s start with some history: What the former Minnesota governor calls the Google test actually began as a “Yellow Pages Test” proposed in the early 1990s by then-Indianapolis mayor Stephen Goldsmith. The idea of the test—which proved quite successful in Indianapolis—was that the government shouldn’t have to compete with the private sector for any service where multiple private sector firms were listed in the Yellow Pages.

Indianapolis’ government didn’t shed many services altogether but it did contract out everything from laying concrete to picking up litter. Government workers weren’t immediately laid off but, instead, had to compete with private sector contractors to keep their jobs. (Goldsmith called this “marketizing” services.) Because of competition, many services improved although a few, like sewage treatment, did run into trouble. Big tax cuts didn’t follow either. The city mostly used the accumulated savings for efforts to improve its infrastructure and subsidize corporations to bring more jobs into the city.

Although the results haven’t been as dramatic as they were in Indianapolis, Goldsmith has used his post-elected-office years to remake city services in the District of Columbia (where he became close to Mayor Anthony Williams) and now, as New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Operations. The federal government would do well to take another dose of the “marketization/yellow pages test/google test” medicine. There are any number of services that might, in theory, be done better by private contractors. That said, the idea is hardly revolutionary: the federal government already does a lot of contracting out, the savings likely won’t be large, and some efforts at “marketizing” that improve services tend not to save money.

To begin with, the federal government has long made very heavy use of contractors to do just about everything. Even with the enormous growth of government under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, the federal government employs fewer people than it did in the late 1960s. Although there are plenty of overweight behemoths in the federal bureaucracy, some very important entities like the Social Security Administration are actually very efficient at administering programs in part because they contract out so much. (This doesn’t of course mean, that the programs themselves are efficient.) And incredibly sophisticated tasks ranging from operating the Space Shuttle to running the Transportation Security Agency’s back office have been handed over to private contractors.

Second, large savings aren’t possible from simply marketizing federal services.  The Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs (the later two almost entirely administered and delivered in the private sector) can all be cut but simply changing the way they are delivered likely won’t save a penny.  While some more military and foreign affairs functions might be contracted out, furthermore, operating the armed forces is clearly a job that should remain in the hands of professional military and foreign service officers accountable to civilians.  In the end, the only areas even appropriate for “marketization” are in the field of domestic discretionary spending and, however, one counts it, that’s less than 20 percent of the federal budget.

Not all efforts will save money either. The United Kingdom, for example, has dramatically improved the quality and frequency of rail service by handing the operation of almost all rails off to the private sector.  But, at the same time, public spending on rail service has actually increased.  The Department of Veterans Affairs Hospital system, likewise, consistently delivers care less expensively than the private sector. Everything that’s known indicates that privatizing it without changing the benefits it provides would dramatically expand federal spending.

In short, Tim Pawlenty’s “google test” is a pretty good idea. But it’s not likely to save lots of taxpayer money or significantly cut the size and scope of government.