Ingredients: 2 unicorn horns, 1 budget plan. Place in pot with sprinkling of flat tax on far right burner. Cover and simmer. Serve with 16 tons of clean coal. (More)

Conservative Vision, Part II – Unicorn Soup

This week Morning Feature looks at the conservative vision for America. Yesterday we saw that conservatives deny having a vision, and indeed deny the idea of national goals. Today we look at their economic proposals, and why we’ll all need recipes for unicorn soup. Saturday we’ll conclude with Fred Whispering points to challenge the conservative vision.

The Gospel of Market.

Give conservatives credit for one thing: they believe in their religion. We don’t usually discuss economic theory as a religion, at least not since candidate George H.W. Bush dismissed candidate Ronald Reagan’s ideas as “voodoo economics.” That Investopedia link characterizes that term as “slanderous.” But George H.W. Bush said supply side economic policies would explode the national debt, and the national debt tripled during President Reagan’s term. A true statement, by definition, is not slanderous.

Unless it goes against one’s religion, I suppose. And conservatives worship The Market with religious reverence. Some even argue that God created free markets, and want to rewrite the Bible to say so. But direct religious claims aside, conservatism has at its core a fundamentalist devotion to markets and a society where “greed is a virtue and sharing is a sin.”

It’s no surprise that Nobel laureate Paul Krugman said the Heritage Foundation’s forecast of 2.8% unemployment by 2020, under the House budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), “depends an awful lot on unicorn sightings — a belief in the impossible.” Representative Ryan’s plan is less a budget than a statement of unwavering faith. It’s the Gospel of Market, Legalese Translation.

Poverty? What poverty?

The actual Christian gospels say very little about free markets and a whole lot about our duty to care for the poor. Indeed an oft-cited passage from Matthew 25 says an eternity in heaven, or hell, rests on whether we care for “the least of these.” And in 2008, the Washington Post noted that GOP seems to stand for “God’s Own Party.” So you’d think conservatives would be care about poverty.

Fortunately Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, says we really don’t have poverty in the U.S. Yes, about 15% of Americans live below the federal poverty level, but once we “understand” what that term means it’s no reason to worry. The “poor” – Rector always puts that word in quotes – are actually doing pretty well: almost half own their own homes, with more living space than the average citizen of Paris or London. Almost all have at least one television. Three-quarters have air-conditioning, own a car, a VCR or DVD player, and a microwave. As for hunger, he writes:

Most poor children today are, in fact, super-nourished and grow up to be, on average, one inch taller and 10 pounds heavier that the GIs who stormed the beaches of Normandy in World War II.

See? They’re not so bad off after all. And besides, it’s their own fault:

There are two main reasons that American children are poor: Their parents don’t work much, and fathers are absent from the home.

In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty.

Father absence is another major cause of child poverty. Nearly two-thirds of poor children reside in single-parent homes; each year, an additional 1.3 million children are born out of wedlock. If poor mothers married the fathers of their children, almost three-quarters would immediately be lifted out of poverty.

Rector ignores research that shows the leading cause of applications for public assistance is … divorce. Most poor mothers were married to the fathers of their children. The mothers became poor when the marriage broke up. Often those newly-divorced mothers still live in the family home … with the TV and DVD player and microwave and air conditioner and that car. And most receive assistance for less than two years.

In short, “welfare” usually works exactly as we would hope: a temporary safety net until poor families get back on their feet. At least for now.

We’ll show you real poverty….

Republicans can’t run on conservatives real platform of reducing the median family income, thus forcing most Americans to live one paycheck away from poverty. That wouldn’t win elections. So they describe worry about working families who struggle with the monthly bills as “hand-wringing.” As Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute put it: “The rich are getting richer faster than the poor are getting richer. So what?” What America needs, Brooks says, are policies that encourage investors and entrepreneurs rather than punishing the wealthy for making money.

The Cato Institute agrees, and says the U.S. should join the global flat tax revolution:

Today, much of the world seems to have learned the lessons that members of Congress didn’t. Beginning with Estonia in 1994, a growing number of nations have joined the flat tax club. There are now 17 jurisdictions that have some form of flat tax, and two more nations are about to join the club.

Hrmm, 19 jurisdictions is “much of the world?” Two of those “jurisdictions” are the British Channel Islands of Jersey and Guernsey. Another is the city of Hong Kong, a “special administrative region” of China. That leaves 16 countries: the former Soviet nations of Estonia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine, Georgia, plus Iceland, Macedonia, Mauritius, Mongolia, Montenegro, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia. There’s also another country in their list: Iraq. Maybe they count Jersey and Guernsey together.

Regardless, Daniel Mitchel writes, it’s really good:

Nations that have adopted flat tax systems generally have experienced very positive outcomes. Economic growth increases, unemployment drops, and tax compliance improves. Nations such as Estonia and Slovakia are widely viewed as role models since both have engaged in dramatic reform and are reaping enormous economic benefits.

Estonia and Slovakia have median family incomes of $20,300 and $20,100, respectively. The average of median family incomes in those 16 countries – excluding Iraq – is just over $13,000.

Is that the kind of “enormous economic benefit” the median American family can look forward to under the Cato Institute’s tax plan? Well, it might be a little more:

[Under their plan] Households would have used the individual postcard to pay a 17 percent tax on wages, salary, and pensions, though a generous family-based allowance (more than $30,000 for a family of four) meant that there was no tax on the income needed to cover basic expenses.

There you have it. Never mind that in 2009, the median family income in Mississippi, the poorest state in the U.S., was over $36,000. Repeal that minimum wage, and ban collective bargaining. Conservatives will get unemployment down to 2.8% – never mind that “full employment” averages about 5% unemployment, due to people between jobs – by making sure no one will be able to afford to change jobs. But it will all be fine. The Cato Institute says a family of four can cover their basic expenses with just $30,000.

If they eat unicorn soup.

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Happy Friday!