If there is one thing we always hear it’s conservatives are pro-growth. It’s in the Club for Growth’s web page title. It’s used by Rep. Paul Ryan and also used to describe his programs. Rising star in the GOP Senator Ted Cruz recently spoke as to how pro-growth policies can bring Latinos into the party. Pro-growth has become an accepted buzz word for conservatives.
The usual response for liberals is to point to their more successful growth record. While Republicans long for the 1950s because of social issues, Democrats long for that same period for its high tax rates and union density. What is often missed, however, is like so many Republican buzz words, “pro-growth conservative” is just another hallow slogan.
Many people have this fantasy about the New Deal coming about because Democrats took advantage of a crisis. At the beginning of Obama’s first term, his then Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel said “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste.” However, what is missing from this is the facts. Most of the New Deal reforms we most remember (Social Security, the Wagner Act) came about in 1935-1936. By that point, unemployment had begun to fall dramatically. Many of the famous pushes for unionization came from firms like GM or US Steel, places that paid more than the average American worker received. As times were getting better, people began to look beyond their immediate needs and ask about things like retirement and treatment at the workplace.
The Great Society represented the period of greatest liberal achievement in American history. It also was occurring at a period of great economic growth. By the end of the decade, workers received more than 50% of what they were receiving before. With the pie getting bigger, people didn’t object to others demanding a bigger slice of it. People could focus on issues like full citizenship for African Americans and eliminating poverty. The more prosperous people, the merrier.
By the 1970s, however, the economy began to slow down and people began to fight for what was theirs. This is when we saw the break between working class whites and the left. The politics of division-black against white, educated vs unskilled, union against non-union-has been based on the idea you’re going to receive less not more and you have to fight to keep what’s yours.
Republicans have probably taken it too far with the “makers not takers” rhetoric. Blaming 30-nearly 50% of the country is too large a group to not piss off enough voters to swing elections. However, when you look at how Obamacare was portrayed-taking away health services from deserving Medicare recipients and people who work to those undeserving unemployed folks-to the stimulus-giving cushy payouts to deadbeat public sector employees at the expense of job creators-to plans to help underwater homeowners-remember, they shouldn’t have gotten a mortgage!-you see the common rhetoric-things are getting worse, so you have to hold to what’s yours.
The thing is, this isn’t anything new with conservative though. At the beginning of the Great Depression, conservative economist Joseph Schumpeter stated:
“A depression is healthy! Like a good ice-cold douche!” If depressions did not exist, Schumpeter thought, we would have to invent them. They were “the respiration of the economic mechanism.”
If “pro-growth,” were just another empty, focus-group tested slogan, it might not matter. However, as we continue to go from manufactured crisis to manufactured crisis, we must remember it really is in the conservatives best interest to tank the economy. They may not realize this-and some may not believe this-but if there is greater growth, people will begin to demand to have a greater part in it. So long as people are fending for themselves in the present, they will not look toward a better future.