I’d basically like to associate myself with this Ruffini post.
In 2008, the recession is all about consumers — be they consumers at the pump, homeowners, or at the grocery store. The recession is hitting all of us a little (rather than just some of us a lot, through lost jobs). This makes it psychologically more damaging, but also more open to a free market populist agenda centered around lower prices for goods in the private economy.
If we can get out from under the dead weight that is 28% Presidential approval, the economic issue environment can be turned against the progressives. Liberalism is built around sacrificing lower prices for social goods like the environment, health care, or economic equality. (If this seems charitable, this is because this is how liberals themselves would describe it.) This is the underpinning of their hatred of low-cost Wal-Mart, their thinly-veiled sense of satisfaction with high energy prices, and their consistent opposition to lower taxes.
A gold-plated agenda that might seem semi-plausible in good times appears laughable in leaner ones, particularly with public attention to prices high as it is.
This last line is clearly a shot against Grand New Party, and I think it’s fair. In straitened economic circumstances, you do have to scale back your ambitions. I’d submit that a lot of our ambitious ideas are in fact low cost. The weighted student formula will most likely cost less than the way we currently fund our schools, for example. Wage subsidies are meant to replace a panoply of social welfare programs and tax expenditures. And so on and so on. But the broader point is very well taken. Insofar as government is making life more difficult for American workers by raising the price of essentials through onerous regulations, tariffs, and other interventions, we should subject these measures to very strict scrutiny.
P.S. It turns out that I was wrong — Patrick’s last line was not a shot against Grand New Party. Clearly my solipsism got the better of me. But if it were, I still think it would be fair. The various semi-agendas we describe are, however you slice it, very ambitious and expensive. In straitened economic circumstances, the public is likely to make more skeptical of “risky schemes,” something a lot of progressive reformers don’t always understand, sometimes to their political peril.
I should also add that the approach Patrick outlines dovetails with some of Brink Lindsey’s arguments about unilateral free trade: it should be sold as a boon for consumers and a means of fighting cozy insider relationships between big business and big government. Some say this will never work, but it’s hardly ever been tried.