No Labels or No Ideas?

Voters have become more resistant to affiliating with party labels because they have been so disappointed by the major parties themselves.  There is a confusion over what the parties stand for, and this is made worse by an administration that enacts policies that ironically have the opposite effect intended.

Labels become no clearer by morphing from "liberal" to "progressive" to the more recent "No Labels."  Rather than face the failures associated with a political label, proponents just try a new name, but no real progress will be made unless the ideas themselves improve.  Calling a pig a horse does not make it easier to ride.

Voters will ultimately judge the ideas associated with political movements by their outcome, not their intent.  The mainstream media perpetuates labels because labels simplify reporting and commentary.  Rather than explore any idea in depth and examine its true results and merit and not just its intent, ideas can be quickly dispensed between commercial breaks, by identifying them with either a label or a personality.

The distinction between intent and outcome, however, is what causes political shifts such as we witnessed at the last election.

Liberals tend to believe in a more progressive income structure, though little is mentioned about how progressive we already are compared to most countries.  The president ran declaring the rich must pay a larger share.  Perhaps this is justified by a claim of greater inequality in income distribution, although even that claim has been distorted by widely reported but poorly vetted research.  Yet the more we depend on the wealthy to support the government, the more sensitive the government revenues become to the fortunes of the wealthy.  Economic downturns affect the wealthy more and create ever bigger deficits which ultimately threaten the ability of the government to fund its ever growing safety net.  The government's ability to stimulate demand in a cyclical downturn undermines the soundness of the economy when administered in doses large enough to respond to a more serious financial collapse.  What works in one time and at one volume may not function nearly as well in a different environment.

The wealthy are certainly more responsive to changes in business income, and they are more able to shift assets, income, and even their location to reduce tax burdens.  This is why higher rates do not equate with higher revenues.  In fact, raising rates by smaller amounts on the lower-income groups is more likely to yield higher revenues because they are less likely to alter their behavior because of the tax, and there are simply so many more of them.  This has the additional benefit of stabilizing the tax revenue stream.  This additional  revenue may serve the ultimate aims of the class warmongers better than hollow calls for economic justice.  

Political progressives have placed disproportionate blame for the financial collapse on the titans of American industry and Wall Street rather than the government policies that fostered the excesses in the system.  The curse of bigness was a rallying cry during the 1930s, when we faced our last major financial crisis.  Then, as now, the progressives called for much more regulation, but there is a key difference.  The financial reforms of the 1930s sought to hobble monopolies, increase transparency, and promote competition.

By contrast, the hyper-regulations we face today have increased the power of the bigger companies at the expense of the entrepreneurial class.  Onerous regulations are more tolerated by larger companies, which have the administrative overhead to absorb the expensive compliance required by a growing regulatory environment.  Many smaller companies either close or sell, unable to afford compliance.  But even more detrimental to our employment picture, more never open their doors to begin with.  More regulations now increase the concentration of wealth rather than promote greater competition.

More regulations also create another political irony.  While lobbyists are decried on the campaign trail, their existence is fueled by more regulations.  As more decisions are made by government bureaucrats rather than voluntary market  forces, political influence replaces innovation as a path to wealth.  When political influence replaces market influence, lobbyists will replace entrepreneurs and salespeople.  Which ones do you think brings longer-term value?

Dismissing labels may be a convenient way to avoid commitment to a party that may fail, avoiding responsibility for anything that happens after the election.  But the problem lies in the ideas behind the labels, and avoiding affiliation can be a front for avoiding commitment to ideas.  If an idea or policy is required to stand on its own merits and its results, a more careful look may reveal that the party that claims to value equality and change the most is the least able to deliver on its promise.

Henry Oliner blogs at