Presidential Elections Are Boring. Policy Is Interesting.

Before there were food trucks.

Photo by Michael Cohen/Getty Images

Since I was just defending the good name of neoliberalism on Twitter earlier today, I thought I might take exception to this from Matt Welch:

The last remaining trace of neoliberalism’s contrarian bent may be a running joke on Twitter about Slate, the publication former New Republic editor Michael Kinsley founded in 1996. The hashtag #slatepitches is tacked onto tweets that are self-consciously counterintuitive purely for the sake of being counterintuitive, such as “The State of the Union is an important and interesting speech” (as Foreign Policy Managing Editor Blake Hounshell wrote in February). In reality,Slate’s political and policy coverage these days is about as unpredictable as you’d expect from a publication whose staffers preferred Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a count of 29 to 2.

I think the monolithic nature of the Slate staff’s voting behavior says more about the banality of presidential politics than it does about the range of public policy views one might debate. Lots of people in America are social conservatives who want to ban abortion and think legal discrimination against gay couples is a great idea. Many Americans also believe that anthropogenic climate change is a myth. But relatively few such people work at American magazines of any stripe or in any capacity. (Welch, for example, does not believe any of those things.) So the partisan dice are heavily loaded in favor of the Democratic candidate in a presidential election. Unless you have a really obsessive desire to see low taxes on rich people, there’s extremely little for a conventional creative class type to like about the Republican Party’s candidates for national office. It’s a bit of a boring calculus.

But the world of policy debates is so much wider and more interesting than that! Is Obama’s manufacturing boosterism is a good idea? I say no. Do municipalities over-regulate food trucks? I say yes. Would single-payer health care lead to catastrophically low incomes for American doctors? I say no. Should we try to reduce the level of online copyright infringement to zero? I say no. Do we need more expansionary monetary policy? I say yes. And so it goes. All of these views are, I think, perfectly compatible with being someone who regularly votes for the Democratic Party. But if you held all those same views and also thought legal abortion amounted to the legalized murder of unborn children, they could easily be Republican views. None of them are Barack Obama’s views or Mitt Romney’s views. I loved The Bankers’ New Clothes and so did John Cochrane, even as Cochrane and I have very different opinions about most economic policy matters. And, again, as best I know, neither Harry Reid nor Mitch McConnell is eager to embrace drastically higher capital requirements for banks. But Sherrod Brown is, and so is David Vitter. There’s a great big economic policy debate out there that’s a lot more interesting than the question of who you should vote for in quadrennial presidential elections.

At any rate, I’m going to be on a panel at the American Enterprise Institute on Wednesday talking about the anti-competitive impacts of many so-called consumer protection regulations. That’s some classic neoliberal stuff, and you can read all about it week in and week out on Slate.