Magazine article Insight on the News

Before: Taxing and Regulating, After: Cutting and Repealing

Magazine article Insight on the News

Before: Taxing and Regulating, After: Cutting and Repealing

Article excerpt

The tax-cut war between - and within - the two parties is the most encouraging political development in decades. Cutthroat political competition may begin to take a new and revolutionary form. Instead of cooperating and logrolling to spend, tax and regulate, the reverse may begin to happen. When politicians discover the political advantages of devolving the state, they will trample each other in the rush to do so.

It's a fantasy of sorts, but it's not impossible. Consider how much the political culture has changed from two years ago. Then, President-elect Clinton was presiding over a summit of hundreds of economists. One after another, they certified the president's plan for making government bigger. Massive new spending, taxing and regulating? The sooner the better.

That event now seems worlds away. Public sentiment, backed by 73 Republican fire-eaters, is forcing Washington consider changes that only yesterday were unthinkable. Even the Republican leadership has been pushed further to the right than it wants to go.

The conventional "public choice" explanation for the growth of the state runs as follows: Politicians, self-interested as they are, want to stay in office, so they pass out spending and regulatory favors to their benefactors. The costs are diffused throughout the population, while the special-interest benefits are concentrated on a few.

In this game, the special interests, a minority of the population, have the advantage. They apply focused pressure for highly valued favors, and the costs are spread among voters who have neither the resources nor the incentive to reverse the damage. In this model, the democratic process, once defined as majority rule, becomes rule by coalitions of minority interests.

That model has explanatory power, but it also has a flaw: It discounts the role of ideas. Indeed, the roar of an antigovernment ideology has begun to drown out the special interests, with politicians at last paying some attention.

The November election shredded all kinds of conventional wisdom. The term-limits movement sprang up on the assumption that the natural advantages of incumbency keep bad people in office. That turns out to be a canard. Voters kicked out the incumbents they didn't like and kept the ones they did like. …

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