What does a data-driven, center-right economic agenda for the problems of the 2010s not the 1980s or 1990s look like? You know, like solutions for an economy with 4 million long-term unemployed and whose share of employed adults has barely budged from the recession lows? Well, that sort of pro-work agenda probably looks a lot like the one AEI’s Mike Strain outlines in the new, must-read issue of National Affairs.
Among Strain’s policy ideas (and I paraphrase): 1) taking advantage of low interest rates to spend money on high-return infrastructure projects; 2) with inflation quiescent, continued monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve; 3) rolling back oppressive occupation licensing requirements; 4) reforming the federal disability-benefit system; 5) admitting more high-skill immigrants; 6) giving unemployed workers a modest cash bonus when they secure employment; 7) paying jobless benefits monthly so workers who get a job at the beginning of a pay period could take in both unemployment compensation and a paycheck for that month; 8) temporarily reducing or eliminating the capital-gains tax on new business investment; 9) offer assistance to some long-term unemployed workers who want to start businesses; 10) relocation subsidies to the long-term unemployed to finance a good chunk of the costs of moving to a different part of the country with a better labor market; 11) significantly lowering the minimum wage for the long-term unemployed for at least the first six months after the date they begin work at their new job, and coupling that lower minimum with an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit or with wage subsidies exclusively available to the long-term unemployed; 12) greater work sharing where a company could cut hours by, say, 20% instead of 20% of workers and each worker could claim 20% of his unemployment benefit.
Strain sums up, beautifully:
Conservatism properly understood is deeply concerned about society’s vulnerable and about the health and functioning of society more broadly. … Our unemployment crisis is certainly an economic crisis. … But work is about much more than production, economic growth, and dollars and cents. Work harnesses our passions by channeling them to productive ends. Work gives us a sense of identity, a sense of purpose, and allows us to provide for those we love. Our unemployment crisis is therefore also a moral and spiritual crisis — a human crisis.
The solution to this crisis does not consist of massive short-term stimulus programs, industrial policy, cumbersome new bureaucracy, unnecessary regulation, and cronyist giveaways. Neither will the best solution be found in lower marginal income-tax rates, cuts in federal discretionary spending, and a balanced budget, whatever the benefits of such policies may be.
Instead, creative, genuinely conservative policies should be proposed and employed — policies that empower individuals, support their aspirations, increase their independence, help them to earn their own success, and promote virtue through work and personal responsibility.