Is Bizarro World already taken?

This is the first entry in a series of commentaries on the economic philosophies of the major candidates for the 2012 presidential election. Only candidates who have consistently polled at or near 10 percent are included, which at the start of this project includes Republicans Rep. Michele Bachmann (Minn.),  Rep. Ron Paul (Texas), Newt Gingrich, Gov. Rick Perry (Texas), Herman Cain, and  Mitt Romney. The series will conclude with President Barack Obama.

A Look at Michele Bachmann’s economic worldview

“In my perfect world, we’d take the 35 percent corporate tax rate down to nine so that we’re the most competitive in the industrialized world. Zero out capital gains. Zero out the alternative minimum tax. Zero out the death tax.” — Bachmann as quoted in the Wall Street Journal

The Minnesota representative’s economic program is vague on specifics but generally conforms to what other Republican candidates have advocated. Bachmann has been most forceful in her desire to repeal Obamacare the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Another key plank in her platform is cutting government spending to get deficits under control. Yet, repealing PPACA would actually add to deficit according to the Congressional Budget Office. Conveniently, Mrs. Bachmann dismisses the CBO report and has dismissed other non-partisan reports when careful research counters her assertions. That’s her right, I suppose. It would be nice, though, if she would substantiate her rhetoric. Just saying.

Reagan reference

“For my tax plan, I take a page out of one of my great economists that I admire, Ronald Reagan. And under my tax plan I want to adopt the Reagan tax plan. It brought the economic miracle of the 1980s. Why not go with what works? You can’t argue with success. I want to reinstitute the Reagan tax model from the 1980s.” — Bachmann on Fox News

From Flickr Creative Commons by Gage Skidmore

I will assume Bachmann was attempting humor by calling Reagan an economist. It is funny, though, that she doesn’t view the economic performance of the Clinton years as worthy of replicating, despite the fact those years brought higher growth and balanced budgets.

Take a canard, any canard

A recent Bachmann fave is to talk about excessive regulation driving up employer costs and limiting jobs. This notion is, in fact largely wrong and dismisses the benefits of regulation (see this EPI report). Several weeks ago, Bachmann railed against regulation at an Iowa meat packing plant and said the food industry is over-regulated. Interestingly, a well-regarded study that surveyed food industry managers found that only a small minority thought the industry was too regulated, about the same number thought it wasn’t regulated enough, and the vast majority felt the industry was regulated just right.

Declaration of independence

Bachmann and Ron Paul, though signatories to a pledge to condition a debt ceiling increase on so-called “Cut, Cap and Balance” legislation, opposed their party’s efforts to do so. Alas, her ultimate disagreement wasn’t that the cut, cap and balance approach would wreak economic devastation (see this EPI Commentary), but that it wasn’t extreme enough because it did not repeal and defund the PPACA.

Guiding principles

“I will demand a return to our Founders’ vision of smaller, smarter government within the enumerated powers laid out in the Constitution.” — Bachmann campaign website

That statement is part of Bachmann’s platform on budgets and deficits and seems to be the guiding principle for her presidential platform. This assessment of the Founding Fathers has long been part of the Republican catechism, yet it is simply not true.

First, the Founders were not a monolithic bloc. Even someone not well versed in the specifics of American history understands the general arc of why the republic was formed:  Our constitution, which she asserts is her guiding document, resulted from the failure of the Articles of Confederation, our first governing structure, to deliver necessary results. The Articles made the federal government subordinate to state governments, a circumstance Founder Alexander Hamilton described as “inconsistent with every idea of vigor and consistency.” Hamilton and other founding figures like James Madison, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin were proponents of a federal government empowered to do what was necessary to advance the United States so long as the people consented.

A principal reason, remember, for abandoning the Articles was government’s inability to pay its debts. I say with great confidence that the Federalist founders would have strongly disagreed with Bachmann’s position during the debt ceiling debate.

Don’t get me wrong—the federalists were not always right, nor did they unanimously agree. That’s actually the point. Asserting that there was a singular founding vision for this country demonstrates, at best, poor understanding of our history.

Next in the series: Ron Paul.