Ezra Klein on Grand New Party

Klein writes,

Brooks says, “The heart of the book is the last third, where Douthat and Salam lay out a series of policy ideas to help working-class families cope with economic, health care, neighborhood and family insecurity.” I had exactly the opposite impression. The policies Ross and Reihan chose feel like they were selected for how interesting and inventive they were.

I’ll confess that there is definitely something to this — the goal was to look far and wide for ideas that would untangle tangles, that would increase transparency and public-sector efficiency, and that would, broadly speaking, deliver the goods at low cost.

Jason Furman’s progressive cost sharing in health care, Robert Frank’s progressive consumption tax, etc. But interesting though they may be, these are not policies that are particularly responsive to either the concerns of downscale voters or the rigors and biases of the political system.

I don’t think this is entirely true — the ur-idea, of course, is to reorient the hidden welfare state and to apply a rigorous means-test. Ramesh has made an excellent point about the life-cycle: voters understand that their tax burden will change over time, and that a lighter burden during the child-rearing years won’t lead to bottomless appetite for government. In a similar vein, the policies outlined in Grand New Party aim to advance the cause of economic inclusion and to create smooth economic on-ramps and off-ramps for parents, among other things. The goal is to make a flexible economy work better for workers, particularly less-affluent workers. As for the political piece, we think that most of the proposals would be attracted provided they were part of a compelling narrative — Ross and I are obviously drawn to a narrative centered on the importance of stable families and economic advancement.

In many cases, they are not policies that make a whole ton of sense within the context of the problem. The whole thing reads much more like a successful attempt to identify some fresh thinking than like a reformer’s manifesto.

I obviously disagree with this, but I see where Ezra is coming from.

More tellingly, the policies are presented without real attachment, more in the spirit of “here are some ideas” than “do this now.” Many chapters feature a series of conflicting policies. Which is to say, even though they’re the part of the program that would represent real reform, they’re not the part of the book that’s emphasized.

Again, there is something to this — our goal was to start a conversation, not to end it. A book like this is outdated in some respects as soon as it is written. We were keenly aware of that risk. Grand New Party isn’t about an exclusively rhetorical shift — it is about openness to policy ideas that reflect deeper ideological commitments. Maximizing economic freedom won’t always mean tax cuts for the rich, for example. Encouraging stronger families will involve more than regulating marriage. I see the absence of a “do this now” posture as a strength rather than a weakness. We’ve cast off some ideas as we’ve taken others on, always with an eye to what makes the most sense, and ideally what cuts with rather than against the American grain. (This is a reflection of Shklarian instincts.)