Where I Stand

I haven’t posted one of these in some time and, based on some of the stray comments I’ve been getting both here and elsewhere, it looks as though I should. I am a registered Democrat and always have been. 99% of the candidates I vote for are Democrats. However, I always vote for the better candidate as I see it regardless of the party affiliation of that candidate.

Here in Chicago, Cook County, Illinois the better candidate is generally a Democrat. When I voted for Barack Obama for the U. S. Senate I did so not because he was a Democrat but because he was running against Alan Keyes, a manifest nutcase who had no attachment or commitment to Illinois. I agonized over whom to vote for for president in 2008 because I thought both candidates were weak. I finally voted for Obama because I was concerned about Sen. McCain’s rashness.

I am a centrist and a moderate. I have written fairly extensively here about moderation in politics, something I believe is necessary for democratic republican government. Moderation is difficult; it is manifest both in the policies one advocates and in the attitude of the advocacy.

I genuinely appreciate President Obama’s temperate approach to discourse although I will admit to some concern over some of the positions he has taken or failed to take. For example, although I believe I understand his position on Afghanistan and, since that’s what he campaigned on, I’m not surprised that he’s decided to escalate our efforts there, I will admit to being disappointed. I had hoped that he might see better outside the heat of the campaign.

I think that giving the Congress its head was not only a tactical mistake, it was intemperate. How can it be otherwise when the Congressional committee system promotes the least temperate members of Congress? BTW, where are those who were predicting that President Obama was going to sweep in with his own healthcare reform plan and pass it?

I believe in ordinary people; I believe that government can be a valuable tool for coping with human problems; I believe in the principle of subsidiarity.

Foreign Policy

I opposed the invasion of Afghanistan and the invasion of Iraq, largely for reasons that should be obvious now but apparently were less obvious to other people at the time. I opposed withdrawing from Iraq from 2004 through 2008, largely on moral grounds, a view that I believe has been fully vindicated by events. I think that we should be withdrawing from Iraq at a much more rapid pace than we are. The Iraqis are now in as much control of their country as they are likely to be and our forces no longer serve any real purpose there.

I simultaneously believe that we would be imprudent to withdraw completely from Afghanistan and that escalating our efforts there is imprudent. My views in this regard most closely resemble those of Rory Stewart.

I’m not worried about China. China will have enough on its plate dealing with its own domestic problems without getting in our face. We’re going to be stuck with superpowerhood for a long, long time.

Although I believe in defending U. S. interests abroad, I believe in a significantly less interventionist foreign policy than we’ve had over the period of the last forty years.

I believe that the grand strategy of the United States should be targeted at maintaining the free flows of trade, capital, and information rather than at the objectives of spreading democratic government and American culture. To that end we need a strong navy. We should be taking the challenges of global data and telecommunications network security more seriously. Among public intellectuals my views on grand strategy most closely resemble those of Walter Russell Mead.

Defense and Homeland Security

Although I believe in a strong defense I don’t believe that the present size and makeup of our defense establishment promotes that objective. I’ve already mentioned that I would withdraw from Iraq and have a substantially smaller military presence (with different objectives) in Afghanistan. I believe that we should be spending less on our military than we do (even without the appropriations for Iraq and Afghanistan) and that, while preserving our naval strength, we should reduce the sizes of our army and air force. Most of our overseas missions should be reduced or eliminated, especially in Korea, Japan, and Europe.

I think the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was feckless. We don’t need greater centralization but less.

Energy

I think we should be deriving a lot more energy from nuclear power than we are. I would prefer small scale thorium reactors over large scale uranium or plutonium reactors for a host of reasons including security concerns.

I’m skeptical of the practicality of electric or hybrid automobiles, largely because of concerns about the scaleability of battery production. Basically, I think that if anybody could make a profit by producing them in mass quantity, they would be. That there is a waiting list for Priuses should make anybody wonder about their practicality except at the margins.

I don’t think that you can separate energy policy from transportation policy. I’d like to see fewer interstate highways and more local sourcing and production of most things including energy. In most weeks I drive about 20 miles. How about you?

Environment

I honestly don’t know what to think about anthropogenic climate change. Climate change per se is inevitable, I’m not sure that in the final analysis it makes any difference whether we’re causing climate change, it’s the result of things other than human action, or some combination. It’s a political problem rather than a technological or economic one. I don’t think that spewing as much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere as we are is a good idea.

I think that geo-engineering is the only game in town.

The economy

I am strongly opposed to centralized planning. I think it’s foolish and counter-productive. It will always have its advocates because too many people see themselves in the role of central planners.

I don’t believe in federal subsidies for basic research. I do believe in federal subsidies for certain mass engineering projects.

I believe that through a combination of our own policy choices over the period of the thirty or forty years, the policy choices made in other countries, and technology, advantages have been conveyed to economic sectors that have been able to impose barriers to entry over those that haven’t. To counter that we have a choice of either raising the bridge or lowering the water and neither is particularly appealing.

I believe that we need to grow, make, and export a little more and consume a little less. I’m not talking about a major re-orientation of our economy, just five or ten percentage points. It will be very, very difficult.

I’m afraid we’ve been getting ourselves into the economic mess we’re in now for a long, long time and there is no easy, pleasant short term solution to it.

Taxes

As long as most income growth is in the upper deciles and wealth is increasing concentrated in the upper income brackets, we’re going to have to accept that “the rich” will pay the overwhelming preponderance of taxes.

It is simply not true that a decrease in marginal tax rates always results in an increase in revenues. That’s only true at certain (high) levels of taxation.

If incomes in the three lowest quintiles had grown just a little more over the period of the last thirty years, no one would be talking about solvency problems down the road with Social Security. If most income growth is in the highest quintile, we’re going to need to raise FICA max substantially, reduce benefits, or both. My preferred solution would be higher income growth in the lowest quintiles but I honestly don’t know how to get there from here.

Entitlements

I believe in government programs to provide assistance to those who are truly needy. Crafting programs that accomplish that without producing moral hazard, e.g. encouraging behaviors we need to discourage, is a daunting task and it’s one we’re failing at. I believe in means testing all transfer programs.

I believe in maintaining Social Security and Medicare since I don’t believe that it’s possible for most people to avoid penury in their old age without such programs. As noted above, I would means test them.

That’s a start. Not particularly well organized but it gives you some idea of where I stand on a variety of issues all in one place.

12 comments… add one
  • Andy

    Dave,

    That’s a good list and there is a lot there I agree with (which is probably why this is one of my favorite blogs). I’m curious about one thing though: Why do you oppose public funding for basic research?

  • A variety of reasons. Compared with mass engineering projects the federal government’s track record on basic research hasn’t been particularly good. It’s inclined to support scientific orthodoxies and cliques. Unless it’s managed extremely carefully it can result in less research being done rather than more.

  • steve

    I would disagree strongly on the basic research stuff. Essentially all basic research is done by government funded sources. Kill that funding and our universities become trade schools. Forget students coming from around the world to learn here anymore.

    Steve

  • Brett

    That’s a good list, Dave. Thanks for putting it out there.

    Although I believe in defending U. S. interests abroad, I believe in a significantly less interventionist foreign policy than we’ve had over the period of the last forty years.

    I have some sympathies with the pre-1990s, post-Vietnam US military command view, which was that the US military should be a powerful instrument only to be used in the most dire circumstances and/or when there are clear objectives and clear endpoints to the mission. In other words, World War 2, the Korean War, and possibly the Gulf War I.

    That said, my views go a bit further. If it were up to me, I’d greatly shrink the Army, shrink the Marines (but not so much, and keep them as a potential “leg-breaker” and “small, temporary, rapid intervention force”), keep the Air Force (but shift it more heavily back towards a “nuclear deterrent role”), and strengthen the Navy (since it helps keep trade lanes open, is a traditional source of defense for the US, and serves a platform for the US ‘s nuclear deterrent). I’d probably strengthen the naval aviation program at the expense of the Air Force fighter program. Diversify the means with which we deliver our nuclear deterrence (meaning more bombers and less ICBMs), and heavily invest in Missile Defense.

    Most of our overseas missions should be reduced or eliminated, especially in Korea, Japan, and Europe.

    Definitely. I’d probably keep a naval base or two in the areas above, but otherwise shift back our commitment to more of a “nuclear shield” type of thing. That’s half the point of keeping the Marines and a strong Navy – we can do reasonably good force projection almost anywhere else to some degree, although it will take much, much longer (which hopefully will deter some of the interventions we’ve gotten ourselves into – they often depend on reliable bases and ports to run supply lines).

    South Korea already has a military that could probably take on the North Korean military and win, and if they went nuclear, their victory would be almost assured. I’m more iffy on Japan, simply because a re-militarization of Japan would probably spark and/or accelerate a regional arms race in East Asia.

    Compared with mass engineering projects the federal government’s track record on basic research hasn’t been particularly good.

    You get things as side-effects, though. Military funding played a major role in sparking some of the technologies now underpinning the Information Revolution, ranging from miniaturized computers and circuits, to “DARPA-net”.

    Plus, there’s things like the Human Genome Project, or government grants to educational institutions.

    I honestly don’t know what to think about anthropogenic climate change.

    At least from what I’ve read, it seems strongly supported in most ways. The weak points tend to be in certain areas that are still contested, like its effects on severe weather storms. It’s sort of like how the evidence for evolution is pretty solid, but there are areas within the framework that are still under a lot of debate.

    I believe that we need to grow, make, and export a little more and consume a little less.

    I’m more concerned about economic and product output and productivity from the Industrial Sector in absolute terms (adjusted for inflation), than its representation in terms of a percentage of the economy. We don’t really complain, for example, that agriculture has shrunken down to the single percentages as part of the US economy, because agricultural output and productivity has increased so drastically over the years.

  • Military funding played a major role in sparking some of the technologies now underpinning the Information Revolution, ranging from miniaturized computers and circuits, to “DARPA-net”.

    That wasn’t basic research. That was engineering.

  • Michael Reynolds

    Yep, really good list.

    It’s interesting how the Air Force has lost much of its mission. It was clear in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War that the Army had to be looked at with a fresh eye, but not many people considered that the Air Force, too, was largely configured to defend Europe from European bases.

  • Andy

    Michael,

    The Air Force did change from a bomber and missile oriented force to tactical aviation, but the mission remains pretty much the same, though at reduced levels. It’s also diversifying it mission set.

    Full Disclosure: I’m currently in the Air National Guard and my wife is an active duty Air Force officer.

  • Angela Little

    I am a moderate and I voted for Obama because he is a centerist. You made the right decision and have demonstrated your judgement.

  • Michael Reynolds

    Andy:

    Props to the USAF. Although I grew up an Army brat we were sometimes based on Air Force bases — Eglin, Hurlburt and Lajes Field.

    I wonder if the idea of air superiority fighters, to take the most obvious example, isn’t dated at this point.

  • Brett

    I wonder if the idea of air superiority fighters, to take the most obvious example, isn’t dated at this point.

    It’s getting there (if/when we have portable solid-state lasers, a lot of combat aircraft will probably be forced to fly much higher in the atmosphere), but we’re not quite there yet. I mean, think of how much the US uses slow-moving UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan – those things would be target practice for anyone with decent air superiority fighters.

  • Andy

    Michael,

    That question gets asked a lot and it’s obviously a contentious issue. The USAF perspective is that air supremacy is a fundamental assumption in US doctrine and war planning and that ensuring air supremacy requires equipment dedicated to the task. But the reality is that maintaining an effective Air Force is very difficult and expensive, which explains why most world Air Forces aren’t competitive with the US. The focus in recent years shifted, however, to ground-based air threats (ie. surface-to-air missiles) and they are really the principal challenge to US air operations for the forseeable future (and actually that’s the case historically when looking at aircraft loss statistics). The newer platforms like the F-22 and F-35 were designed with that in mind – to both provide for continued US qualitative edge against other aircraft as well as ground missile threats. Whether it’s worth the extraordinary cost is certainly debatable, but the way our procurement system works promotes unaffordability, which is obviously a huge issue going forward. Sadly, procurement reform is something that gets many complaints but no substantive action from Congress for reasons that I’m sure are all too clear….

    Anyway, sorry for the thread hijack Dave, sometimes I get carried away.

  • Sam

    My preferred solution would be higher income growth in the lowest quintiles but I honestly don’t know how to get there from here.

    I think it’s minimum wage increases – as in a rising tide raises all boats. Yes, it temporarily hurts the marginally productive, but it’s hard to believe that there are that many marginally productive when we have such large income gaps.

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