Supply-Side Liberals


I followed the link from Greg Mankiw to a new blog by University of Michigan professor Miles Kimball. It looks promising: The first few posts are really good, I think. But what struck me is the blog's title: Supply-Side Liberal. I love that.

Why "supply-side liberal"? Kimball explains:

Among the enduring dilemmas of economic policy the most important is the conflict between efficiency and equity. In calling myself a supply-sider I am saying that I believe the harm to the productive performance of the economy caused by taxes and regulations is serious (though seldom serious enough that a reduction in taxes would raise revenue). In calling myself a liberal, I am saying that in addition to an attachment to the liberty, limited government, constitutionalism, and rule of law emphasized by Classical Liberalism, I hold to a view based on both classic Utilitarianism and contested elements of modern economic theory that, generally speaking, a dollar is much more valuable to a poor person than to a rich person, and that therefore, there is a serious benefit to redistribution that must be weighed against the serious distortions caused by the usual methods of redistribution...

Perhaps because of cognitive dissonance, it is common for people to either believe (a) that tax distortions are serious and redistribution of questionable value OR (b) redistribution is valuable and the distortions induced by taxes are small. My belief is that (c) tax distortions are serious AND redistribution is valuable. That makes me a supply-side liberal.

Well said. May I join?

I don't suppose the term is brand new, but it should be in much wider use. I don't think I've come across it before. I ran into Michael Kinsley yesterday and asked him whether he'd seen it--or possibly already coined it. "Not sure," he said, "though I might once have called Henry George [whose thought Mike is devoted to reviving] a supply-side socialist". He dug out an article from The New Republic in 1989 (an excellent essay; sadly it doesn't seem to be accessible on the web.) The phrase wasn't there, but a version of the idea was.

What I like best about Henry George is way he combines radical egalitarianism with an equally radical belief in free-market capitalism. Indeed, he saw his theories as a bulwark against socialism, protectionism and Bryan-style populist demagoguery. But he noted the difference between capitalism in theory and the actual economy he saw around him.

I don't share all of Mike's enthusiasm for George. And I think "supply-side socialist" crosses the line between seeming paradox and self-contradiction. But supply-side liberal is excellent--and, let me emphasize, for exactly the reason Kimball says. It's not a question of defaulting to the mushy middle. It's a matter of recognizing painful trade-offs instead of denying them, which is the political pathology of our age.

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Clive Crook is a senior editor of The Atlantic and a columnist for Bloomberg View. He was the Washington columnist for the Financial Times, and before that worked at The Economist for more than 20 years, including 11 years as deputy editor. Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics. More

Crook writes about the intersection of politics and economics.

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