Moderates have the better story

Moderates have a different story to tell, but in both parties moderates are afraid to tell it. Moderates are afraid to break from the gloom and carnage mindset that populists like Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders insist on.

Moderates have the better story

In this context you need a government prepared for war. You need a government fired by economic nationalism, willing to play trade hardball against our foes. You need a centralized industrial policy to shift investment where it’s needed. You need a government that will protect you, control you and give you things: free college, free child care. As in any war, you want government that is centralized and paternalistic.

Moderates have a different story to tell, but in both parties moderates are afraid to tell it. Moderates are afraid to break from the gloom and carnage mindset that populists like Donald Trump, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders insist on.

But hope is warranted and must be displayed. In the moderate story, global capitalism is a challenge but also an opportunity field. Over the past generation more people have been lifted out of poverty than ever before. For the first time we have a mass global middle class. This opens up new opportunities, liberates masses of talent and leads to more creativity than ever before.

In the moderate story, government has a bigger role than before, but it is not a fighting, combative role. It is a booster rocket role. It is to give people the skills needed to compete and flourish in this open, pluralistic world. It is to give people a secure base, so they can go off and live daring adventures. It is to mitigate the downsides of change, and so people can realize the unprecedented opportunities.

Statecraft is soul craft. Through the policies they choose, governments can encourage their citizens to become one sort of person or another. Progressives want to create a government caste that is powerful and a population that is safe but dependent. Moderates, by contrast, are trying to create a citizenry that possesses the vigorous virtues — daring, empowered, always learning, always brave.

How to do that? First, learn from the Nordic countries. American progressives sometimes imagine that the Nordic countries are socialist wonderlands. They are not. The Nordic countries have strong social supports and also open free-market economies. In fact, they can afford to have strong welfare policies only because they have dynamic free-market economies.

No Nordic country has a minimum wage law. According to a JPMorgan Chase report, Nordic countries are more open to free trade than the U.S. They have fewer regulations on business creation, fewer licensing regulations.

As Charles Lane pointed out recently in The Washington Post, most Nordic countries have zero estate tax. Nordic health plans require patient copayments and high deductibles, in stark contrast to Bernie Sanders’ plan. The Nordic countries tried wealth taxes of the sort Elizabeth Warren is proposing, and all except Norway abandoned them because they were unworkable.

The Nordic countries show that social solidarity and economic freedom are not opposite, but go hand in hand. That’s the general approach we want here.

Second, never coddle. Progressives are always trying to give away free stuff. They reduce citizens to children on Christmas morning. For example, Warren and Sanders want to make public college free. But as common sense and recent research tells us, when you give people something free, they value it less. They are more likely to drop out when times get hard.

Moderates want to help but not infantilize. They want to help students finish college, but they want them to at least partly earn their way, to have skin in the game. They want to produce a country that is not full of passive recipients but audacious pioneers.

Third, drive decision-making downward. People become energetic, responsible adults by making decisions for themselves, their families and their communities. Moderates are always aiming to make responsibility, agency and choice as local as possible.

For example, moderates support child care tax credits so parents can decide if they want a day-care model or a parent-stays-home model. But Warren wants to make it hard for families to have choice. She supports only federally funded day care, effectively forcing families into federally funded programs, limiting their choice and making them wards of the system.

Fourth, bring on the world. International competition is more rigorous than national competition. Moderates think Americans can meet that test. Warren’s Green Manufacturing Plan would shield American companies from that competition when competing for government contracts. They wouldn’t have to be excellent, just American.

Fifth, ignite from below. Warren wants to centralize economic decisions, creating a Department of Economic Development — a top-down council of government dirigistes. Moderates emphasize tools that regular people can choose to build their own lives and maximize their own opportunities: wage subsidies, subsidies to help people move to opportunities, charter schools.

These are stark differences, different worldviews. So far in this campaign you’ve heard only one. But moderates have another story, and it is the better one.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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