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The Marginality Of The Conservative Reformer

Mark Kleiman recalls:

I’m so old that I remember when market-simulating pollution-control regulations – polluter charges or cap-and-trade – were the official conservative alternative to command-and-control regulation. I was sympathetic to that critique, and frustrated about the environmental movement’s unwillingness to see reason. But now that the enviros have embraced a GHG tax or its cap-and-trade equivalent as the way to deal with global warming, conservative support is nowhere in sight.

Matthew Yglesias adds:

Another major example I can think of is the Earned Income Tax Credit, once touted as the conservative alternative to welfare and/or restoring the real value of the minimum wage, but now supported almost exclusively by liberals while conservatives castigate the poor for not paying taxes. Section 8 housing vouchers, put forward as an alternative to public housing and then repeatedly cut by GOP congresses is another one.

Section 8 housing vouchers is another good example. I wrote about this issue for TNR in 1997, right at the time housing vouchers were transitioning from an exciting conservative alternative solution supported by right-wingers like Jack Kemp into a program Democratic elected officials were trying to phase in as a replacement for public housing and which Republicans then decided to defund.

The larger problem here is that you do have some empirically-oriented right-wing policy analysts who have alternative, market-based solutions to delivering public services. But those analysts tend to wield influence solely as critics of existing government programs. If and when elected officials actually embrace those solutions, the critics are never heard from again.

It's not solely an issue of bad faith. Most conservatives prefer a market-friendly program to a non-market-friendly program, but they also prefer no program at all to a market-friendly program. So the conservative infrastructure and Republican politicians will support market-friendly alternatives primarily when they can be used as a wedge against existing government programs. The project of formulating more market-friendly means of advancing liberal ends is always going to be a sideshow on the right.