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Tuesday, September 30, 2003

The Democratic Message

Nearly a week has gone by and I've been thinking a great deal about last week's Democratic debate. Specifically, I keep wondering about the economic plans of the various candidates.

Every one of them agrees unemployment is bad and that the Bush tax cuts haven't done anything to create jobs (why would investors pursue new enterprises in a slow economy featuring over-capacity?).

However, none of them had a coherent alternative that seems likely to resonate with voters. Sure, polls show that repealing some of the tax cuts on the wealthy is popular -- and that would certainly help pay down the deficit. There might even be enough money to buy some health insurance for a few more people. None, however, seem to be talking about jobs programs (that old Dem staple seems to have been tossed aside...well, Kucinich and Sharpton might support them, but few of the others).

So what should these candidates be saying about jobs?

I'm not 100% certain. The Democratic candidates did seem to think that growing economic activity creates jobs. That sounds awfully...Republican, doesn't it? Echoes of "trickle down" economics reverberate.

So how should a progressive "grow the economy"?

Here's one you may have missed: a new OMB study (from the Bush White House) actually concluded that environmental regulations help the economy! And the effects aren't trivial:

the health and social benefits of enforcing tough new clean-air regulations during the past decade were five to seven times greater in economic terms than were the costs of compliance. The value of reductions in hospitalization and emergency room visits, premature deaths and lost workdays resulting from improved air quality were estimated between $120 billion and $193 billion from October 1992 to September 2002.

By the way, this study was produced by John Graham, who many progressives opposed when he was nominated to direct the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. I've known Graham for over 20 years (he once wrote a letter of recommendation for one of my grad school applications) and am glad to see that he is decidedly not letting politics interfere with his data crunching.

What else should progressives want to do to spark the economy?

Well, Dean has been talking about alternative energy, and with OPEC increasing oil prices, this might be a particularly opportune time to emphasize investment in new energy sources. The Bush campaign is sure to monopolize oil industry campaign contributions, so this is a painless and potentially winning issue even for the pro-business Democrats.

Seriously. Nixon wanted "energy independence" 30 years ago. Carter said the energy crisis of the 1970s was the "moral equivalent of war" (please don't notice the feline acronym). It's bipartisan -- or was. It's arguably a good issue to reach out to independent voters who think politicians don't talk about anything important.

And it clearly is important.

Who wants OPEC dependency? Who likes dirty air? Global warming? Terrorism? Alternatively, who likes accepting the Saudi human rights record? As Amory Lovins has long pointed out, this is a security issue, as well as an environment, health, and economic issue. He's still saying these things, and mostly, he's right.

The link between oil money and terrorism is a LOT more plausible than the link between drug money and terror. Especially the cash link to the Islamic terrorists (this would also be a good way of asking why the administration omitted the 28 Saudi pages of the last 9/11 report)
Overall, this issue speaks to an array of public policy decisions that really could be significant -- especially if the Democrats convince people that they'll save money in the short and long run by starting to invest now in alternate energies.

I could see Dean selling this, but Clark or Kerry could do it too.

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