The Great Conservative Lie
Jan 14, 2014

The Great Conservative Lie

Virtually all incidences of modern Conservatism - Canada and the US, federally, state/provincially and municipally, from politician to politician - has a consistent central theme. Campaign planks comes and go, but this is the frame of the Conservative movement. It is also a lie, known by all who say it to be false, and at best a sort of spun half truth used for partisan gain. I'll let the Ontario Tories' big new Million Jobs Act talking point number one be the choice example of this theme:
"Reduce debt and taxes to encourage employers to hire and to signal to Ontarians they will keep more of their money."
The first rebuttal is so painfully obvious I don't think I have ever bothered to explicitly criticized this most oft repeated conservative talking point on this blog: lowering the debt and reducing taxes are entirely antithetical to one another: reducing taxes increases the deficit. Every Conservative and Republican knows this, of course, but they pair the two together constantly. The other side isn't quite so egregious but it's not far behind: cutting the debt - as in having a surplus - is enormously difficult to do without increasing taxes, and effectively impossible when substantially cutting them. Difficult, at least, if one wants to retain any semblance of our current role of government.

What they are really getting at is the Conservative ideal of a vastly smaller government which means massive spending cuts and fewer services. So massive, in fact, that you actually can get around lowering taxes and lowering they deficit. Why can't they just be honest about it? Conservative ideology is to cut the size of government. Stop trying to hide this part, and dress it up as this contradictory nonsense about simultaneously reducing the debt and taxes when what means is to slash spending to do this.

What does massive spending cuts mean? Massive cuts to jobs, of course. And not just to government jobs, if you don't care about those (Conservatives are quick to denigrate apparently oh-too-cushy unioned jobs), it takes a hit to the entire economy. Decreased services mean less money in people's pockets which depreciates the economy, all those recently jobless government employees don't spend their union protected salaries which depreciates the economy, etc. In precisely the way tax cuts bolster the economy, reducing spending depreciates it. Massive spending cuts is only rightfully called a jobs plan in that it kills jobs.

The Conservatives talking points might just be saved if they could restrain themselves on that whole debt business. They could say that cutting taxes and holding spending would bolster the economy now at the cost of increased debt, or they could even argue that cutting taxes and cutting spending in equal measure was a rebalancing that is slightly preferred. Most economic analysis indicate that spending on things like infrastructure and jobless benefits and the like is more stimulative than tax cuts, but they could at least try to argue the much more nuanced point that it is the other way around. But no, by forcing debt or deficit cuts into there, they are ensuring the spending cuts - and this a depreciating net economic effect - dominates what was supposed to be a plan about exactly the opposite.

Finally, there is this myth about the debt and its relation to the economy. There are a lot of factors that go into the bottom line of a business and can increase or decrease their business activity. Taxes, incentives, jobs training, and all sorts of other things that governments do influence these decisions. Government debt, however, is just not one of them, at least not in the short and medium term. The reason why very large debts are bad is because of future problems. In the future, one may have to raise taxes to pay for it, or cut spending. In the future, debt may affect interest rates or inflation rates. Unless you are one who believes (and some Conservatives do hold to this) that some imminent Euro-esque debt crisis is just arround the corner for the US or Canada (it just isn't) then what you are doing is taking a short term hit - job killing spending cuts and job killing taxes that affect people immediately - in the hopes of reducing some future suffering. If one wants to present a carefully nuanced version that we should do just this, then fine, I'm open to listen. But don't try to sell worrying over debt as a short term job creation plan, that's just nonsense.

There, I said it. I would have hoped such trivialities never needed to be said, but the unfortunate reality is variants of this same meme get repeated endlessly.

By the way, there are one or two other slight difficulties about Tim Hudak's Million Job Plan, such as the fact that there isn't a million unemployed people to even give jobs to, not even close.

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