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The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party

Posted on 5 December 2017 by dana1981

The parallels between the Republican Party positions on taxes and climate change are striking. Both are morally appalling and reject the available evidence and expert opinion.

The Initiative on Global Markets’ panel of economic experts was recently asked about the Republican tax plan. Among the experts who took a position either way, there was a 96% consensus that the plan would not substantially grow the economy more than the status quo, and a 100% consensus that it would substantially increase the national debt.

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Those numbers are quite similar to the 97% consensus among climate scientiststhat humans are driving global warming and the 95% consensus among economists that the US should cut its carbon pollution. 

The House and Senate Republicans have passed similar versions of their tax bill, and neither chamber is allowing any climate policy to move forward.

So what’s making Republican Party leaders reject the expert consensus on these incredibly important issues?

Unwavering faith in the face of contradictory facts

Sometimes tax cuts make sense; for example, when trying to stimulate a depressed economy, or when operating with a budget surplus. Neither is currently the case. This message from the president:

Unemployment is down to 4.1%, lowest in 17 years. 1.5 million new jobs created since I took office. Highest stock Market ever, up $5.4 trill

Is incompatible with Senator Lindsey Graham saying “the economy needs a tax cut.” The tax cut plan, which by design will increase the US national debt by $1.5tn, is also incompatible with Republican opposition to increased deficits. Just last year the Republican National Committee was warning of “an unsustainable path toward crippling debt.”

Economists also agree that we should be paying down the debt when the economy is going strong. When the next recession inevitably strikes, governments need monetary flexibility to respond. That’s when it makes sense to run a deficit (for example, see the 2009 stimulus package, which helped pull the US out of the Great Recession and cost less than the Republican tax plan).

These Republican economic contradictions make no sense, but they’re familiar to those of us who follow climate change news. The only consistency in climate denial is in its contradictions – deniers claim global warming isn’t happening, but it’s a natural ocean cycle, and caused by the sun, and galactic cosmic rays, and Jupiter’s orbital cycles, and it’s really just a Chinese hoax, and in any case it’s not bad.

On taxes, the Republican argument is cuts pay for themselves by stimulating economic growth and creating jobs.

But the economic literature is far from clear about whether tax cuts necessarily spur economic growth at all, let alone enough to pay for themselves. Moreover, corporate CEOs have repeatedly said that the Republican tax plan won’t spur investment or job creation – instead they’ll mostly pass the gains to their wealthy shareholders. There was an embarrassing video clip when Trump economic adviser Gary Cohn was confronted with this inconvenient truth:

When presented with the nonpartisan congressional Joint Committee on Taxation analysis concluding the bill would increase the national debt by over $1tn even when accounting for associated economic growth, Republicans immediately rejected the results.

As Nobel-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz said, “Either it’s a religious belief, a belief where no amount of evidence would change that, or they are using the argument cynically and they just want more money for themselves.” He was talking about trickle-down economics, but just as easily could have been describing climate denial.

A growing disdain for nerds

I’m old enough to remember when the GOP considered itself the party of intellectuals, back in the days when Republicans invented the concept of pollution cap and trade systems, for example. It wasn’t long ago that party leaders like Newt Gingrich and 2008 GOP presidential candidate John McCain were calling for the party to support climate policies.

Starting with the brief rise of the Tea Party in 2010, that all changed, and the intellectual rot of the GOP has accelerated under President Trump. In a July 2017 Pew poll, just 36% of Republicans said colleges and universities have a positive impact on America, and a stunning 58% said they have a negative effect.

Similarly, in an August 2017 Gallup poll, just 33% of Republicans expressed confidence in higher education. Worst of all, the Republican tax bill even penalizes American graduate students.

Eating away at the GOP intellectual core: Fox News

A 2012 survey found that Americans who only watch Fox News are less informed than Americans who watch no news at all. At the time, 55% of Americans including 75% of Republicans reported watching Fox News. The network is powerful – a recent study found that Fox News might have enough influence to tip American elections – and on the whole it prioritizes ideological messaging over factual accuracy.

Trump’s attacks on the so-called “fake news” media have further eroded Republicans’ trust of news sources that lack a conservative bias. As David Roberts wrote for Vox:

The US is experiencing a deep epistemic breach, a split not just in what we value or want, but in who we trust, how we come to know things, and what we believe we know — what we believe exists, is true, has happened and is happening … the right has created its own parallel set of institutions, most notably its own media ecosystem … “conservative media is more partisan and more insular than the left.”

Truth papered over by lies

Because so many conservatives rely on right-wing media sources for their news, it’s easy to misinform them through a constant stream of lies.

For example, Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin promised that his department would produce an analysis showing that the tax cuts will pay for themselves. One economist in the department leaked to the New York Times that such an analysis doesn’t exist and Treasury staffers weren’t even asked to study the issue. It was a lie. Mnuchin also claimed the plan would only raise taxes on Americans who earn more than $1 million a year – the exact opposite of reality and another blatant lie. In fact, the entire Republican case for their tax plan was based on lies.

Similarly, climate denial is based on endless myths and misinformation – Skeptical Science has catalogued and debunked about 200 of them. And recent research showed that these myths are quite effective at misinforming their audience.

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Comments 1 to 22:

  1. The Republican tax policy and climate policy simply doesn't make any sense to me either. A general tax cut doesnt make sense. America is not a high tax country contrary to the bizarre claims of some people. Its tax rates are very significantly below the OECD average, as a total tax burden, shown here and here for example. Therefore its hard to see a pressing need for a tax cut in general terms. 

    The country doesn't need general tax cuts. It's obviously not in recession needing stimulation.

    Economists say Americas at near maximum capacity so tax cuts could well lead to inflation, a boom and crash cycle, and larger trade deficits (that Trump says he is worried about) and will certainly add to government debt and deficit loads, which Obama was criticised for. But apparently high debt and higher deficits is now "ok". The double standard is breathtaking.

    Tax cuts will raise pressure to cut important spending in health, education, NASA, and climate research. 

    Theres just no logic to the Republican tax plan at all, and it is a shameless self serving give away to business interests. Economists say most of the corporate tax cut will go to executive pay and shareholders, not pay of ordinary workers.

    There may be a need to tidy up deductions, cut taxes on poor people, and some small corporate tax cut, but any of these cuts should be revenue neutral surely? Balanced by tax increases (maybe a carbon tax). But the Republicans are in total denial about the climate issue as well.

    I'm not an advocate for high taxes as France has for example, more a middle ground approach,  but the Republicans have lost touch with reality.

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  2. "Theres just no logic to the Republican tax plan at all, and it is a shameless self serving give away to business interests"

    Actually a correction. There is a certain twisted logic, keeping your donors and supporters satisfied, but it's all still gone too far and is a morally bankrupt decision not in the countries interests.

    America will also be financially bankrupt if it keeps cutting taxes and increasing spending on military. Debt is already at nearly 100% of gdp well above IMF recomendation of 60% maximum of gdp, and is something like 13 trillion dollars. It cant go on forever without disastrous consequences.

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  3. Perhaps this comes down to whether one believes reality to be objective or subjective.  Subjective reality can be obtained from authority figures (because going against them is more painful).  When moral and secular authority join to convince the public to 'just trust me' on reality (to use a favority phrase of Mr Trump), then that's the path people take.  The purpose of Fox News is to emphasis the 'moral rightness and necessity' of taking that path.  If reality is objective, then wonk opinion matters.  Scientists matter on scientific matters, and economists on economic matters, and this is regardless if they are spouting 'inconvenient truths'.  As regards the recent tax cuts, some people with little regard for objective history will be condemned to repeat it, I guess.  The main thing is to keep the pillars of free speech, so that the wonks can remain a buzzing fly in the GOP ointment.  That's the real danger right now, to this website and others messaging objective truths that many in authority don't want to hear.

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  4. "When moral and secular authority join to convince the public to 'just trust me' on reality (to use a favority phrase of Mr Trump), then that's the path people take. "

    Yes absolutely. People hurting or confused by complexity and poverty, turn to public figures especially dangerous demagogues, who will find scapegoats. Conspiracy theories take presidence over objective reality, and are a form of escapism. There's also a belief in "truthiness" which I think is over emphasis on gut instincts.

    If the problem is misdiagnosed, the results will not work. America has places hurting like detroit, but this is due to automation as much as jobs lost to mexico and free trade like this has benefits as well as some problems. You have to help these people left behind, with retraining and relocation allowances, or income support, or maybe some universal basic income scheme, otherwise its going to get ugly. Yet this is an anathema to Republicans.

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  5. If you wait long enough, deniers often reveal themselves as 'defenders of the homeland against communist and globalist takeover'.  They see that climate change requires a 'one-for-all and all-for-one' approach, and Big Fossils tells them that's UN Agenda 21 and the end of freedom as we know it.  At times like these, I try to remind them that, if they used a toilet today (or even had access to one), they are already taking orders from the 'Big Guvment', to save them from their own filth (liquid in that case, but in climate change it's their gaseous filth they need saving from).  And they've been doing this for 150 years, apparently not aware of their 'communism', and that its been costing them in taxes, all this time, about 1% of their GDP to save their children from dying of cholera (but just look at that cost, mon Deiu!  btw, this is about the same % of GDP that fighting climate change is expected to cost if we start soon).  I was brought to this realization by skepticalscience, btw!

    The magic of the market can (and should) be directed to bring us the latest wizbang ideas at the 'lowest entropy' sector of human development (computers, information, electronics).  Sadly, someone still needs to be there to take out the trash (the 'highest entropy' sector), or we will literally drown in it.  Turns out: the captains of capitalism ain't interested (garbage collection isn't sexy, I guess), which leaves the sadly benighted public sector.  It always falls to the public sector to tell the public to put a toilet in their house, and use it.  Using it, however, hasn't left the public powerless to defend itself from the clutches of the commune, for some strange reason.  And that reality is worth repeating to the denial community.

    There's nothing wrong with fossil fuels.  Fossils just needs to pick up its trash.  And... there's the rub.

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  6. The % of GDP cost is an excellent point. Especially when it’s coupled with the idea that costs to mitigate climate change now reduce the risk of greater costs in the future.

    Unfortunately, that sounds just like the kind of mumbo jumbo about “tax cuts paying for themselves.” Oh wait, but many Americans totally buy that. Hhhmmm

    What you say about science denial actually being rooted in Red Fear and Anti-Globalism is spot on. I’ve heard it over and over again.  Let’s remember that the Trump campaign was able to turn the climate debate in its favor not by denying the science (“Chinese hoax”) but by playing to Exceptional American‘s idea of fairness (The Paris Agreement/America First.)

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  7. And to think the question was biased in favor of conservatives in two ways

    1: A "decade from now" is not the long-run equilibrium. The basic effect of these tax cuts is a boost to GDP due to the increased deficit spending, and a long-run drag as we pay ever-growing interest in on.

    2: It focuses on GDP, not GNI. The problem with GDP is that it counts as a positive income "earned" by foreigner investors inside the US. Most of the purported GDP gains are merely a reflection of foreign investors reaping a tax windfall and having more bonds to buy (likely, at higher interest as well!).

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  8. It's off topic, but this just appeared as an Los Angelas Times article...

    Climate scientists see alarming new threat to California

    Interesting read.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] For future reference, the appropriate place for a post like the above would be the comment thread of the most recent SkS Weekly News Roundup.

  9. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Top US firms including Walmart and Ford oppose Trump on climate change by Richard Luscombe, Guardian, Dec 1, 2017

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  10. nigelj @ 2

    "There is a certain twisted logic, keeping your donors and supporters satisfied, but it's all still gone too far and is a morally bankrupt decision not in the countries interests."

    I think I have expressed my disgust elsewhere on this website with what the Republicans are doing with their tax plan notwithstanding my "questioning" stance on various climate issues.

    But there is some logic from the Republican standpoint (or at least those who run the Republican party). 

    Thomas Piketty in his book "Capital" has an explanation for why the elites prefer financing government expenditures through debt rather than taxes.  In the case of taxes, there really is nowhere to fund these expenditures except from the wealthy.  However, through the use of debt financing, guess who effectively purchases the money instruments issued?  The wealthy.  In this way, they continue to "get a return" on the funds lent to the government rather than it just being "taken away" from them by way of increased taxes.  Because I am fiscally conservative,  I believe that we should be paying our way with increased taxes rather than burdening our children with more debt.  But I think Piketty has it right as to why the wealthy prefer deficit financing. 

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  11. NorrisM@10, Picketty sounds right about why the wealthy like debt financing. Interesting thought. I have not read Pickettys books, but have read plenty of articles on his work.

    I think the wealthy, and the corporate sector also hope that large debt financing will force governments to privatise assets, and cut welfare benefit spending which they like to see cut. 

    I also think debt should be kept low, and not huge debt passed onto future generations.

    However debt doesn't have to be zero. I'm a little bit of an old fashioned Keynsian, who believes its ok for governments to borrow and run up debt in recessions, provided they pay the debt back in good economic times, by running budget surpluses. This basically keeps debt low over the long term. In NZ we have legislation requiring this called The Fiscal Responsibility Act, which permits borrowing, but requires debt be kept low (in essence), and all parties have abided by this legislation. Over the last 25 years our government debt has been very low. Its simply not permitted to cut taxes if they increase deficit and debt.

    If countries have very high debt like Greece, and they go into recession, they can't borrow, and have to slash costs, and it can lead to an economic disaster and serious poverty. This is where America is going.

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  12. Yes science denial, red fear and anti globalisation is all mixed in together and reinforces itself. Its badly informed, reactionary, emotive conspiracy theory clap trap.

    Agenda 21 is a good largely commonsense set of human rights standards, sustainable development goals and environmental policies. Most of the critics have probably never read it, and just get played by the leading critics who have ulterior business motives to object to it. The agenda is voluntary.

    Wikipedia has a summary on Agenda 21,and link to the full agenda. Its an environmental and human rights agenda for the 21st century, not chapter 21 out of a manifesto for the common ownership of the means of production. Get real you conspiracy theory people. You already accept plenty of safety rules like flusing toilets, air bags in cars, the environment is a similar issue. Quality of life is as important as economic growth.

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  13. I'd like to celebrate December 5th as the first day for me to be in complete agreement with NorrisM (or is it T. Piketty?). Fiscal conservatism in the US has become nothing but a campaigning rethorical tool and has not existed in government actions for a long time, regardless of who has been in power. It is rather ironic that countries usually perceived as "liberal" (in the popular, social, US meaning), like Norway, have achieved enough fiscal conservatism over years that they are now in a position to use the money saved from their oil business to successfully withstand the end of oil as their financial foundation.

    In the grand scheme of things, it boils down to corruption. There is a level of corruption beyond which any system ceases to function in a way that is conducive to progress and sustained well being for the majority of the population. The US has made a lot of efforts to remove effectively corrupt actions and methods from the legal realm, changing them into acceptable practices, without in depth thought about the full array of long term consequences. These consequences will hit nonetheless, because reality always wins, and physics always win.

    It is a sad time to watch what is happening right now in the States, my adopted country. It has devolved into some weird cargo cult. Even the savviest of power players are struggling to keep track of what is real. Even the financial/economic world has that problem with the thing they know best: money. The bullshit wars inaugurated by Clinton1/Bush have taken off with the full force of the digital age and run completely out of control. We'll see what comes out of it.

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  14. Something weird and dangerous is happening in America. It's a whole combination of things, extreme partisan divisions, crazy economics, people reduced to living in trailor parks on crazy subsistence level wages and minimal invalids benefits, alternative facts, anti intellectualism, anti globalisation, anger, climate issues, corruption and confused ethics.

    Rome collapsed due to a combination of factors, possibly just overwhelming their civilisation, including some similar ones to America notably over extended empire, and financial problems, corruption as well as barbarian invasions. This is described in the book the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, in 6 volumes, by Edward Gibbon in 1776 ( a short one volume version is available). Other societies have collapsed due to environmental problems, described by Jared Diamond.

    The thing that strikes me is many of these societies collapsed due to a combination of problems building up. Maybe it reaches a point where society can no longer cope and adapt, and the whole thing collapses unpredictably.

    Civilisation does not come with some guarantee of success and survival. 

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  15. Nigelj #14,

    Something weird and dangerous is happening in America. It's a whole combination of things, extreme partisan divisions, crazy economics...

    The political extremism has been 30 years in the making though it's gotten to be real noticeable since the Bush administration.

    This is the result of 30 years worth of hate radio, starting with Rush Limbaugh, and 20 years of hate television, starting with Fox News. Hate sells (Limbaugh's $400 million contract for 8 years!) and is used to control people.

    Throughout those 30 years our productivity has doubled but the salaries of most has not. Except, of course for the upper 1%.

    Unfortunately, I see no end for this in this country (USA). Fortunately we're flanked by

    Europe we all know about. Lesser known by the public is that China is getting into the renewable energy bandwagon. Their wind energy productivity is increasing by about 50% per year and they plan to phase out gasoline and diesel cars by 2030. So much for Lord Monckton's Chinese "socialist" conspiracies. 

    The United States appears to be the world's village idiot.

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  16. Villabolo#15,

    The United States appears to be the world's village idiot.

    I forgot to mention Russia. Strong deniers there with the oil mafia in charge and enriching Putin.

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  17. Phillipe Chantreau and nigelj

    Anyone trying to understand what has happened to the US over the last 30 years would do well to read Mark Lilla's book "The Once and Future Liberal - After Identity Politics".  Lilla is Professor of Humanities at Columbia University.  It also suggests a map  forward for the Democrats if they want to get back to a position of power.  His premise is that the Democrats have to "get their hands dirty" and get back to politics at the state level.

    One of the persons quoted recommending the book on the book jacket is Steven Pinker.

    As far as American politics go, there is a crucial decision coming from the US Supreme Court which was heard in late October.  It relates to the constitutionality of "gerrymandering".  Of all things, I think it is this ability to play around with shape of the voting districts which has caused the Republican party to take such a radical swing to the right.   Even with Gorsuch on the bench, my understanding is that Roberts actually stayed on so he could participate in this case and a few others.  Even with Gorsuch Roberts has the casting vote.

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  18. Villabaloo @15, interesting that you mention Rush Limbaugh. We have our own equivalent in NZ, a guy called Leighton Smith. Fortunately he announced just a day ago that is retiring next year. Yay! I think hate merchant sums up their style.

    Everyday his talk back radio is the same garbage: climate change is allegedly a "scam", what about the medieval warm period?, we are coming out of the little ice age, there is no consesus and so on, ad nauseum. No matter how many times you point out the huge holes in these arguments, you just get brushed off or called names or are labelled a pc leftist. Its ironic becuase my politics are so middle ground overall, that if I gave a lecture on politics and economics, it would probably send people to sleep.

    These denialists are often just dummies, but the ones who worry me are the intelligent ones that are driven by politics, and very manipulative of public opinion. And Smith is not totally unintelligent.

    Then you get lectured by Mr Smith about how everything is "too pc" or a "socialist conspiracy" and how multiculturalism is evil, taxation is theft, etc, etc in a constant stream of angry ranting and believe me this guy gets angry, maybe partly to attract attention to get ratings, and partly because he is naturally angry. He  swears on radio sometimes (while complaining about the language of the younger generation).

    Does that all sound like RL?

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  19. Recommended supplemental readings:

    Instrument of Power: How Fossil Fuel Donors Shaped the Anti-Climate Agenda of a Powerful Congressional Committee by Marianne Lavelle & David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News, Dec 5, 2017

    "Alternative Facts" about Climate Change by Ben Santer, Observations, Scientific American, Dec 5, 2017

    Top US firms including Walmart and Ford oppose Trump on climate change by Richard Luscombe, Guardian, Dec 1, 2017

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  20. Nigel - well amazingly, I have never heard of him. I dont think I have ever willingly listened to talkback radio, but surprised I havent had people push this stuff at me. Hopefully it means his profile is quite low. Is Auckland radio denizen?

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  21. Scaddenp @20, where have you been living? Leighton Smith has been doing the 1ZB talk back radio show for about 20 years, 9am-12am. He has even won awards, despite his absolute nonsense, so his profile is quite high. He is an institution.

    He even initiated a ghastly climate debate on television. I used to listen but not much now, its always the same rubbish. Don't worry you haven't missed much.

    I do listen to talkback radio a little. I live alone, semi retired, like to see what people think. A lot of its poison of course. Sometimes I wonder why I bother.

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  22. Recommended supplememtal reading:

    Instrument of Power: How Fossil Fuel Donors Shaped the Anti-Climate Agenda of a Powerful Congressional Committee by Marianne Lavelle & David Hasemyer, InsideClimate News, Dec 5, 2017

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