Saturday, July 30, 2016

Hillary, tell us a story

In a deep dive into Clinton's economic policies and messaging, Jim Tankersley makes two main points: 1) her package of proposals is detailed, nuanced and backed by mounds of think-tank research, and 2) hard to grasp.

On the first point:
Clinton's presidential policy apparatus began with a small group of formal and informal advisers conducting what amounted to a research project on what is wrong with the American economy — and how to fix it. They interviewed about 200 experts.

What she has released so far is the distilled product of that effort.
Her plan includes spending more than $1 trillion to rebuild U.S. infrastructure, allow students to attend college without incurring debt and help working families afford day care for their children and take paid leave to raise them. She thinks such spending would create jobs and accelerate economic growth, help low- and middle-income students gain skills that are increasingly necessary for high-wage work, and reverse a recent trend of women leaving the U.S. workforce.

She would raise taxes on the highest earners and impose a new minimum effective tax rate for them, to pay for those programs and to curb inequality. She would add to the Obama administration’s wave of new regulations on Wall Street. And she would change the tax code to discourage companies from moving operations overseas, while encouraging them to share profits with workers and invest more in long-term opportunities.
On the second:
Campaign officials say they have constantly heard from donors and outside advisers that their candidate needs to strip down her economic message. It's a challenge, they say, that weighs on them. “You don’t want to be, as the expression goes, bringing a calculator to a knife fight," said one senior Clinton adviser, speaking on the condition of anonymity to frankly discuss the campaign strategy.

Clinton’s plan represents “a very sensible approach to economic policy and the challenges we face,” said Alan Krueger, a Princeton economist and former chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers who is advising Clinton in the race. “The risk in the campaign is, it doesn’t fit easily on a bumper sticker.” 
I don't think it needs to fit on a bumper sticker. I think it needs to fit together as a story: how we got to where we are, with incomes stagnant and most of the gain from growth going to the top, and how we reverse course.

As I noted yesterday, I think Elizabeth Warren has the storyline. To reiterate:
Elizabeth Warren tells a great story of how the one percent grabbed all the income growth over the course of a generation. In her telling, there were three pillars of postwar prosperity: unions, effective regulation and fair taxation.  Republicans (mostly, with some help from third-way Democrats), tore them all down.

Why not reverse-engineer that story and tell how you'd a) boost worker leverage, 2) increase tax fairness and so investment in infrastructure, energy, education, housing, etc., and 3) regulate to make the financial system safer and make it serve small businesses and working people better?

Clinton has plans addressing all three pillars. But there's no unifying principle. That gap appears to simply be part of who she is, like the vision thing for George H. W. Bush.
I left trade out of the picture. Clinton's position on trade deals is frustratingly but necessarily nuanced: we need them, but they need to be better, and we need to do more to support and retrain those they hurt. That can be fit into the framework, though. I think the difficulty is not how many chapters the story has, but whether it has a plotline.

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