Friday, October 19, 2012

Mitt Romney’s Trickle -Down Government Nonsense

Romney Nomadic Politics by Nomad

Mitt Romney's use of a new catch-phrase "trickle-down" government deserves a closer look. What does he mean? And why are his ideas about "trickle-down" downright wrong.

Maybe you heard it too. At first, I thought I had mis-heard what he had said. 
Near the end of last debate we heard Mitt Romney say:
This is the way we're going to create jobs in this country. It's not by trickle-down government, saying we're going to take more money from people and hire more government workers, raise more taxes, put in place more regulations. Trickle-down government has never worked here, has never worked anywhere.
In case you missed it, “trickle-down government” is a new catch-phrase that Romney has deploying at every possible occasion. Here’s another example in the first debate:
The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more — if you will, trickle-down government — would work.
In one speech in Colorado, he clearly put pedal to metal and came out chattering like a manic shopping channel salesman:
”I saw the president’s vision as trickle-down government, and I don’t think that’s what America believes in….We have very two different courses for America – trickle-down government or prosperity through freedom. And trickle-down government that the president proposes is one where he will raise taxes on small business….

“We’re going to have a stronger America with more jobs, rising incomes, moderated prices – that’s a very different path than one with trickle-down government…Under trickle-down government, you have the president saying – well, you remember in his last campaign, that under his policies of energy, that prices of energy would necessarily skyrocket…

“The Congressional Budget Office says that by the end of a four-year period, if he were to be re-elected, trickle-down government would lead to a setting where we would have $20 trillion in debt…Trickle-down government will not create the jobs Americans need.Trickle-down government will not bring down the cost of energy. Trickle-down government will not allow incomes to rise…
Well, the reasons for this rhetorical strategy are clear. By now most intelligent voters have caught on to the fact that the whole trickle- down theory has been pretty thoroughly discredited. Most people have understood that rewarding the super wealthy has not led to an increase in jobs. In fact, much of the money derived from the Bush tax cuts was apparently stowed away in offshore accounts in the Cayman islands or in Swiss banks. If the trickle-down theory actually worked, then we would have seen some sign of its success after ten years. 

So Romney’s idea? Continue with the same policy but re-frame the debate by changing the catch-phrases. Now it’s trickle-down government. 

Lakoff and Framing
One person who understands Romney’s word game very well is UC Berkeley linguistics professor and Rockridge Institute Fellow, George Lakoff. It’s called framing linguistics. He has written quite a bit on the subject of framing which, according to scholars “ is based on the assumption that how an issue is characterized in news reports can have an influence on how it is understood by audiences.” 
Basically, it’s a means of controlling the discussion of an issue by controlling how it is defined and how it is presented. Eventually the news media picks up the same strategic phraseology and it becomes the sole way of viewing the subject.
Lakoff gives this example:
If you have something like "revolt," that implies a population that is being ruled unfairly, or assumes it is being ruled unfairly, and that they are throwing off their rulers, which would be considered a good thing. That's a frame.

If you then add the word "voter" in front of "revolt," you get a metaphorical meaning saying that the voters are the oppressed people, the governor is the oppressive ruler, that they have ousted him and this is a good thing and all things are good now. All of that comes up when you see a headline like "voter revolt" - something that most people read and never notice. But these things can be affected by reporters and very often, by the campaign people themselves.
A Mother Jones article explains the advantage of framing.
Ownership of language is an important part of winning political battles, and ... liberals need to pay a lot more attention to words and framing if they want to get ahead at the ballot box.
Lakoff has also noted that conservatives have become experts at controlling the discussion.
(C)onservatives, especially conservative think tanks, have framed virtually every issue from their perspective. They have put a huge amount of money into creating the language for their worldview and getting it out there. Progressives have done virtually nothing.
However, Romney’s use of framing goes far beyond merely shifting the definitions. It enters into the Orwellian area in which words are re-defined into the opposite- or at least radically different- meanings. (War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength),

If Romney has his way, trickle-down, as a phrase, will not mean the failed policy of Reaganomics or supply-side. Trickle-down will no longer denote the idea that by reducing their taxes, the carefree spending of the super-wealthy will filter down to the lower classes. In Romney’s brave new world, trickle-down will come to mean frivolous government spending. 
In effect, it turns the idea on its head. 

Olympic Spinning
So that is what Romney desperately hopes to achieve by excessively barking this empty phrase. The more people are talking about trickle-down government, the less they are examining the failed Republican economic policies. 
The New Republic has attempted weakly to give some kind of pedigree to the phrase. 
The first use of “trickle-down government” that I can find ... was in an Associated Press report from July 1984. It wasn't at all pejorative about government spending—if anything, it was favorable—and the context was an argument being made by the management of the Los Angeles Olympics, led by Romney’s fellow Republican and fellow Olympics-savior-turned-political- candidate Peter Ueberroth.
In this context, then, “trickle-down government” is shorthand for government spending that has a stimulative multiplier effect on private-sector economic growth.
In other words, trickle-down government was a "jobs provider." Horrors! (We will be returning to the Olympics in a moment, by the way.) 
Over the years the meaning of the phrase, according to the New Republic, has come to have a less favorable meaning. 
...To the very minor extent that “trickle-down government” has any meaning at all, it’s shorthand for the argument, “Government spending doesn’t stimulate the economy.”
If Romney believes this last statement, then he has clearly chosen the wrong man as his running mate. Back when Bush was president, Ryan was pretty enthusiastic about the power of government spending to stimulate the economy.  As Huffington Post reports:
"What we're trying to accomplish today with the passage of this third stimulus package is to create jobs and help the unemployed," Ryan said..."What we're trying to accomplish is to pass the kinds of legislation that when they've passed in the past have grown the economy and gotten people back to work."
Strangely, it was only when Obama became president did Ryan do an about-face on government stimulus.
*    *    *    *
Since Mitt Romney’s not bothered to explain exactly what he himself means by that phrase, I suppose, it can mean whatever he wants it to mean. Perhaps there’s another good reason for not explaining. Intellectually, it’s nonsense. 

The Truth about Trickle
What Romney calls trickle-down government is what the rest of the nation calls “government investment.” That investment can come in a variety of forms and not all investments are equal. In the trickle-down theory, the government invested too. It invested in the top one-percent to provide jobs- as they promised- which in turn would strengthen the middle class. That idea- the former trickle-down economy theory- was a failure based on a broken trust. As I have shown in another blog post, it had failed a century before it was re-branded by Reagan.

When in the closing minutes Romney mocked the president by saying three times, “Government doesn’t create jobs” he is contradicting not only the experts but he is also contradicting Mitt Romney. He has, after all, promised that if elected to create 12 million new jobs. Does not compute.

Apart from that failure of logic, Kristina Costa and Adam Hersh writing for American Progress also point out that government investment has already demonstrated its success when it comes to government spending on infrastructure:
We know from very recent experience that infrastructure investments deliver the goods for job creation and business growth. Two years ago, the unemployment rate for construction workers was 17 percent—before federal government stimulus funds boosted construction and the overall economy. In 2009 Congress and the Obama administration allocated an additional $29.9 billion in transportation spending for roads, bridges, and transit systems alongside another $21.7 billion for other infrastructure investments, ranging from funds for improving drinking and wastewater systems to large-scale civil engineering projects overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Together, this money accounted for 6 percent of spending through the Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, directly creating 1.1 million jobs by March 2011 in the construction sector. Those 1.1 million jobs represent 17 percent higher construction employment than would have been the case without government action, according to an analysis by Daniel J. Wilson, an economist with the Federal Reserve.
And the income from those jobs trickles down to other businesses as well.  
When construction workers get their paychecks, for example, they may use the money to pay rent or the mortgage, buy groceries, take the kids to the dentist, or for other household spending—the same things all people do when they get paid. These activities generate sales for businesses and help create and maintain jobs for workers throughout the rest of the economy.
Compare that to the more familiar trickle-down in which the wealthy, (the so-called job providers who haven’t) have been rewarded with tax cuts. Instead of being returned to the community, that windfall came to rest in offshore bank accounts. 

As Lakoff points out, we should all be thankful for trickle-down government.
In the past the government made certain wise investments in things like the interstate highway system. You just get in your car and drive; you don't think about how every time you use the highways you're getting a dividend on that previous investment - and so is every business that sends a truck over the interstate highway system. The Internet is another example. It started out as a network funded by the Defense Department, by the government investing taxpayers' money. Now, every time you surf the Web, you're getting a dividend. Drugs and medical advances that come out of National Institutes of Health grants are financed by taxpayers. Computer chips in our computers and cars exist because of the government's early investment of taxpayers' money in semiconductor research.
Something  More Lurks
But as with so much in Romney's background, there always seems to be something still worse lurking in the shadow of his political philosophy.

If this video clip-taken right after he became governor of Massachusetts-  is anything to go by, he was not always so down on trickle-down government.  
He just can't seem to help from boasting about how he raked in as much taxpayers money during the management of the 2002 Olympics. Apparently he thought government spending stimulated economies then

Just for the sake of argument, let’s return to Romney’s speech in Colorado and see what he has to offer in place of trickle-down goverment. 
“The American people last night were given a choice. They were given a choice between two different visions for America. One where we continue down the road to become more and more like Europe, where government gets larger and larger, more and more intrusive in our lives, spending more and more, borrowing more and more, putting us in our [inaudible.] The other is a path that returns America to America, where we will restore the principles of freedom and hope and opportunity and hope that this nation has always been built upon. I will take us there, with your help. We’re going to take back this country.”
Well, it’s about as concrete as anything Palin ever babbled back in 2008, but that’s not saying much. It's anybody's guess what on earth Romney could mean when he says he will return America to America, and..blah blah freedom and hope and opportunity. 
A lot of frame but no Mona Lisa.