The Price of Reform

I thought there were plenty of congenial ideas in David Brook's latest stab at formulating a reformist conservative agenda, but I wonder a bit about his math. Brooks writes that "Income taxes are not going to be coming down, but they need to stay where they are."

Things being what they are in the modern conservative movement, Brooks might as well admit that he worships a shrine of Karl Marx as offer this oblique criticism of the Supply Side Gospel. After all, if lower tax rates bring more revenue, why not cut cut cut forever? Meanwhile, what Brooks is offering is inadequate to the scale of his agenda. He wants:

  • "A new working class tax credit applied against the payroll tax"
  • "a larger child tax credit"
  • "increases in the Earned Income Tax Credit"
  • "nurse-home visits for children in chaotic homes"
  • "Preschool should be radically expanded"
  • "copy the models — like KIPP Academies — that actually work"

This is all fine, but it would cost a lot of money. Brooks sort of elides this with the observation that "per-pupil expenditures [. . .] are not sufficient to produce superb information-economy workers" which is true. But it's also true that KIPP teachers "typically earn 15 to 20 percent more in salary than traditional public school teachers." These reform proposals are good idea, but they're not an alternative to the traditional liberal notion that if you want better outcomes for kids you're going to have to spend more money on kids. But higher taxes are off the table. So where does that leave us? You'd need to pare entitlements pretty severely just to stop the costs from rising. Are we cutting the defense budget instead of continuing on the path of large annual increases? I don't want to dismiss the possibility out of hand; I'd certainly favor something like that. But does Brooks?