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What Are the Democrats Are Doing Right?

April 13, 2009

The Economist asked David Frum this question and it was striking how much his answer reflected what I had been thinking:

Democrats in Congress have said "No" to organized labour on its demand to eliminate secret ballots before union certification. To date, the Obama administration has brushed off demands from its angrier constituencies to impose some kind of legal sanction on those in the Bush administration who made national security decisions with which Democrats have disagreed. They have not acted precipitately in Iraq, they have not granted a blank check to the auto companies, and they have shown impressive open-mindedness and adaptability in addressing the crisis in the banking sector—even if they have been awfully slow to arrive at a credible final policy. And, of course, President Obama himself has shown great calm, reassurance, and dignity in office. The "reset" of tone in US foreign relations is a great service both to America and the world.

Those are all good things. Not sure they’re worth $800 billion in wasteful stimulus spending though.

There is a deeper problem as well: a naive trust in the ability of government action as an antidote to unwelcome results in the market. Unfortunately it is a problem that seems to be shared by Republicans.

To be clear, it seems likely that many markets can be improved. But most of that improvement seems likely to come by making changes that eliminate distortions, which is wholly different that change inspired by unwelcome results.

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