A Frugal Progressive Is an Effective Progressive

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Christina Romer has some good advice for the president. Talk more explicitly about long-term deficit reduction, she says -- first, to deflect the misguided demand for short-term deficit reduction; second, to stop Republicans pretending that they alone take the issue seriously; third, to make it clear that the Democrats' approach to the issue will be both effective and more compassionate.

Democrats shouldn't be ashamed to advocate actually increasing spending that encourages opportunity and long-run growth...

But to make support for good spending credible, compassionate deficit reducers should be specific about what they would cut. Personally, I'd start with agricultural price supports and subsidized crop insurance programs that mainly benefit large commercial farmers. High-speed rail might be next. (Sorry, Mr. Vice President.) And if the defense secretary says that there is $487 billion that can be safely cut from the Pentagon's budget over the next 10 years, we should listen to him.

Honest talk about the deficit is risky. Voters are more enthusiastic about the abstract notion of deficit reduction than about the painful details of accomplishing it. But deficit reduction is coming, and this election will most likely determine how it's done. Democrats owe it to the American people to detail their more compassionate approach so that voters can make an informed choice.

I agree, but I'd put it more strongly. Democrats fall easily into talking about public spending as though it's virtuous in its own right -- as though it's something to celebrate. (Government is the only thing we're all part of, so let's have more.) This makes taxpayers nervous. A bit more reluctance to spend their money would reassure them. I suggest constant acknowledgement that the burden of proof is on government to justify its outlays. Let's have some zeal now and then in opposing government expenditures that aren't good value for money.

Republicans, supposedly the party of small government, have been reckless spenders. One reason they get away with pretending otherwise is that Democrats are reluctant to point to programs (other than defense and corporate subsidies) that waste money. Democrats imagine, I think, that doing so would undermine support for all public spending. Actually it would do the opposite. For maximum effect, progressives need to be frugal.

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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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