Oneposium on the Democracy Symposium

Democracy‘s latest issue has a grab-bag of progressive policy proposals, most of which have no obvious ideological valence and can thus be just as easily embraced by center-right types. Below I offer a quick and dirty rundown of the best of them.

(1) Michael McFaul calls for “A Helsinki Process for the Middle East.” This one is a no-brainer, and I’ve often wondered why we don’t pursue exactly this approach. The obvious stumbling block is:

A new security organization in the Middle East would add no value if only comprised of the League of Arab States or U.S. allies. Rather, in addition to the Arab countries, Israel, Iran, Turkey and perhaps even Afghanistan and Pakistan should be invited to join (though not technically in the region, these latter two countries’ security is closely intertwined with the rest of the Middle East). External actors must also be included. Many Arab states and Israel will want U.S. participation to counter Iranian involvement in a new Middle East security organization; others will want a similar external check to the United States.

Thorny, clearly. But:

But the great lesson of Helsinki was that better security between states creates more permissive conditions for internal democratic change. A multilateral security organization would also provide a forum for countries without developed bilateral relations to meet: Iran and the United States, for instance, might find it easier to interact first in a multilateral setting than a bilateral one.

Let’s get right on this!

(2) Brad Carson calls for “Smart Development Subsidies,” stating early on:

Of course, we can’t–and shouldn’t–ban economic development subsidies entirely; after all, it is wise public policy to encourage economic activity in struggling communities.

Nope. We should ban economic development subsidies entirely, through a constitutional amendment if need be. They are profoundly destructive, and they offer a rich vein of self-dealing opportunities. Damn economic development subsidies to hell!

(3) Michael Greenstone serves up yet another no-brainer in “Tradable Water Rights.” Everything he says seems to be clearly correct. I won’t dwell on it, but it is highly informative.

(4) In “A Third Age Bill,” Gara LaMarche suggests that we put oldsters to work. I agree! For one thing, it will help keep them alive.

(5) It should come as no surprise that Andrew Rotherham has an excellent idea in “After-School Coupons.”

Under this plan, low-income parents of students in persistently low-performing schools would get state-provided coupons for after-school services, but they would be free to choose how to spend the money at a state-approved list of providers. States would be required to certify eligible programs more aggressively than they do today, and schools and school districts would be allowed to compete to serve students along with non-profit and private entities. Parents could use the funding at a single provider, say, for extra help in math, or break it up among several different services. By means-testing the program policymakers could ensure that the funds are used to help the students who need them most. And school districts would not be expected to administer a program that in effect penalizes them for low performance.

Democrats will have a hard time pushing this idea. Republicans should pick up the slack.

(6) I’m basically sympathetic to Michael Lind‘s proposal for “A Total Tax Credit,” though my strong preference is for a unified tax.

(7) David Kendall wants to “Reinvent Medicare” by decentralizing it.

To replicate the success of low-cost, high-quality delivery systems throughout the country, Medicare should be broken into regions and overseen by regional medical directors. These directors would then join with local coalitions of consumers and employers to experiment with new ways of paying for care and assessing the quality. Following the lead of Mayo and other regional coordinators, they would develop new payment models that require doctors and hospitals to be accountable for the cost and quality of care.

Let’s please, please, please try this. It’s an obvious sell for conservatives — we like decentralization and experimentation, don’t we? We certainly should, at least.

(8) I was very impressed by *Jim Kessler’s proposal to “Deepen Gun Ownership,” a notion I hadn’t seriously engaged before.

Trafficking should be redefined as selling multiple guns out of a home, car, street, or park that have two or more of the following characteristics: obliterated serial numbers, are stolen, are new in the box, or are sold to underage buyers or people with felony records. This would still allow individuals to privately sell firearms to people they know or trust, and it would put the onus on sellers to demand a background check for those they don’t.

I’d need to study this further, but it sounds like a decent enough compromise.

And that’s all she wrote.