Friday, October 16, 2009

David Brooks' Unreality Moment

According to David Brooks's "reasoning," the Conservative Party in Britain is proving that the "center/left" has been discredited there by moving...left?

But Britain has hit its reality moment. The Brits are ahead of us when it comes to public indebtedness and national irresponsibility. Spending has been out of control for longer and in a more sustained way.

But in that country, the climate of opinion has turned. There, voters are ready for a politician willing to face reality. And George Osborne, who would become the chancellor of the Exchequer in the likely event that his Conservative Party wins the next election, has aggressively seized the moment.

In a party conference address earlier this month, Osborne gave the speech that an American politician will someday have to give. He said that he is not ideologically hostile to government. “Millions of Britons depend on public services and cannot opt out,” he declared. He defended government workers against those who would deride them as self-serving bureaucrats: “Conservatives should never use lazy rhetoric that belittles those who are employed by the government.”

But, he pivoted, “it is because we treat those who work in our public sector with respect that I want to be straight with you about the choices we face.” The British government needs to cut back.

Osborne declared that his government would raise the retirement age. That age was scheduled to rise at some point in the distant future. Osborne vowed to increase it sometime in the next five to 10 years.

Osborne declared that there would be no tax cuts any time soon. He said that as a matter of principle he believes that the top income tax rate of 50 percent is too high. But, he continued, “we cannot even think of abolishing the 50 percent rate in the rich” while others down the income scale are asked to scrimp.

Osborne offered government workers the same sort of choice that many private sector executives are forced to make. He proposed a public sector pay freeze in order to avoid 100,000 layoffs. He said that the pay freeze would apply to all workers except those making less than £18,000 (nearly $29,000) “because I don’t believe in balancing the budget on the backs of the poorest. Nor do you.”

I certainly don't disagree with Brooks that we are approaching a time here in the U.S. when reality will intrude and we'll have to rethink our tax rates (though a return to Reagan era marginal rates of 50% and higher are unlikely), but if he thinks that's a sign of progressive failure, or that Republicans will emulate the embrace of their brethren across the pond of not cutting taxes in times of ...whatever the times happen to be..., then I'll have what he's having, please.

It's always amusing when conservative pundits in this country look to members of Conservative parties in Europe as signs and portents of things to come here. Forgetting, of course, that Conservative party members in Europe tend to be a little to the left of Harry Reid.

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