Friday, May 3, 2013

Beyond Peace 4

I finished Richard Nixon's 1994 book, Beyond Peace.  This book was published in the same year that Richard Nixon passed on.

Getting a handle on Richard Nixon's political ideology is not an easy task.  He often talks like a conservative in this book, and he quotes favorably such conservative lions as Rush Limbaugh, Thomas Sowell, and Charles Krauthammer.  Nixon also expressed skepticism about global warming.  Yet, Nixon unapologetically takes certain positions that can be characterized as liberal, particularly on the issues of gun control and abortion.

I don't have much of a problem with Nixon being his own man, for why should we require people to subscribe to the usual banal Left-Right polarization, where one either has to be a liberal or a conservative, as if either "side" has a corner on the truth?  But there were a couple of times when Nixon seemed to me to be contradicting himself.  For example, he waxed eloquent about the failure of rehabilitation when it came to criminals, advocating punishment instead.  Yet, in the very next paragraph, he referred to drug rehabilitation programs that were effective.  At times, I got the impression that Nixon opposed the Great Society because it entailed the government getting involved in areas that it had no business being in.  And yet, Nixon tries to make clear that he's for a social safety net for the very poor----those who cannot support themselves.  Nixon criticizes a progressive income tax that taxes people based on what they make, preferring instead a consumption tax.  Yet, when it comes to entitlements, he is for means-testing, which enables the poor to receive more benefits, while shifting the cost more to the middle and upper income people.

There are times when Nixon attempts to explain what may strike people as an inconsistency.  For example, Nixon is critical of Bill Clinton's health care plan because it would require employers to provide health insurance to their employees, a heavy cost that could have bad economic consequences.  But did not Nixon have a health insurance mandate for employers within his own health care proposal, back when he was President?  Nixon acknowledges that he did, but he says that health insurance was not as financially burdensome back then as it is now.

There was one time when I wished that Nixon provided more detail, in an attempt to answer potential objections that one could raise to his position.  Nixon supports a consumption tax, since that could encourage saving, which would later be used for capital.  That makes sense to me.  In fact, reading Nixon has sensitized me more to why saving is important for the economy.  But I still have a question.  Let's say that I've saved, and I then decide to use my savings to start a business.  How would I benefit, and how would I be able to benefit other by employing them, if there is a consumption tax discouraging people from buying my products?  I agree that saving is important for the economy, but so is consumption.

In addition to the importance of saving, there was something else that this book by Nixon further sensitized me to: on the need for a strong economy to support a social safety net.  Communism preached equality, but people living under it were not better off whenever its policies inhibited economic growth.  Granted, some of the countries that Nixon praises as capitalistic, such as Taiwan, came to adopt a single-payer health insurance system, the sort of system that Nixon criticizes.  (Whether it did so before or after Nixon died, I do not know.)  See this article.  And yet, Taiwan did so after it had become wealthy.  Then, it could afford a single-payer system.  I hope that there is some way to combine the free market with an adequate social safety net, or any government action that can provide people with a hand-up.  A while back, I was reading a New York Times article on the legacy of Hugo Chavez, and it noted that, while Chavez made things better for the poor, economic growth in Venezuela was not that great when he was its leader.  The article said that some are looking to Brazil as a better alternative: it is capitalistic, yet it has a strong social safety net.

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