Does Ryan Frazier support genuinely free markets or not? I had been under the vague impression that he does, but reports of a recent interview suggest that Frazier supports Keynesian “stimulus” spending and public-private partnerships, which violate economic liberty. So what is the straight scoop?
Ben DeGrow pointed out an article by David Thielen republished by the Huffington Post pointing out that Frazier favored “stimulus” spending for transportation and education in addition to public-private partnerships.
I was a little surprised by DeGrow’s kid-glove treatment of the candidate: “Solutions-oriented? Definitely. Committed to limited government principles? An opportunity for a clarifying follow-up discussion.”
If Frazier can’t clarify his basic views in an hour-long interview, I doubt a “follow-up discussion” will shed more light on the matter.
But is Thielen’s summary accurate? I was surprised that his “interview” contained not a single direct quote. Might “Liberal and Loving It” Thielen be skewing Frazier’s remarks? Thankfully, on his original post, Thielen offers a link to download the audio file of the interview.
After a discussion of food and personal background (and a telling remark from Thielen that he regards certain “libertarians” as to the right of Genghis Khan), Frazier at 17 minutes, 42 seconds into the recorded conversation discusses his general principles:
There were certain principles that attracted me to the Republican Party. … [Something] the free enterprise system. [There’s a lot of background noise with the recording, making parts of it difficult to understand.] … Fiscal responsibility. And protect the rights of the individual. And in doing so you protect the rights of the community.
Frazier discussed the “fiscal responsibility that I think will in the long term help create a better America for our children.”
At 19 minutes, 48 seconds, Frazier says:
For me, there are a couple things that are absolutely, I think critical to a stronger, better, safer America. Obviously it starts with the economy. At the end of the day, [if] a person can’t keep a roof over their head and lights on and provide clothes for their children’s back… Trust me, I know, I grew up in a difficult environment. And, for me, that ought to be the focus for all of us. That ought to be one of the primary things that any of us who seek to represent the people focus on. That is, how do we continue to enact policies, or restraining government, such that the economy, and the ability for it to flourish, is sustainable. …
I would look to leaders who have demonstrated the ability to do that. I think one of the Democrats’ very best… is JFK. … If you read some of his speeches, things he pushed for, I think a lot of those things are true today, as much as they were true then, in 1962. For instance… he gave an address to the economic club on New York in 1962. I thought it was one of the best addresses I’ve heard, period. And in effect what he says … [is] the single largest thing that the federal government can do to aid economic growth is to create an environment for private consumption and investment…
He goes on to say to cut the fetters of… [the] private sphere. And he goes on to make a case for the types of things, given the circumstances, given the environment — i.e., you have an economy that is trying to find it’s footing, that has a potential to grow much more — that can be done to assist in that effort. And he in this case advocates for tax relief for everyone, both personal and corporate income tax relief. …
If you want to truly, really stimulate your economy, one of the greatest ways is to reduce, even if it’s momentarily, reduce any barriers… to private consumption and investment. … So what does that look like? … You look at ways that you can reduce taxation on everyone. Not just one segment of society, but everyone, in order to stimulate private consumption, which ultimately leads to a growing economy. And you also incentivize… investment in additional equipment… and technology. …
Obviously I’m a Republican because I believe in a more limited government, which is not the same thing as no government. There is a role for government, and I’ll have that conversation with anybody who believes otherwise. … But the question is, what is that role, and what extent ought that role to be?
At this point, I was thinking to myself, Jesus, Thielen; you wandered into a gold mine and came out with a few shiny lumps of coal. But I give him credit for conducting an interesting interview. At 24 minutes, 30 seconds, Thielen asked Frazier what positive role he sees for government in the economy. Frazier replied:
A limited government is not no government. So I think you have to articulate what are those limited roles, and what is it that government can or properly should be doing. I happen to be an advocate for public-private partnerships. I think that is a great solution for a lot of the challenges we face in this country. Whether it’s FasTracks here locally, and looking at public-private partnerships there, or other projects where the private sector and the public sector can come together to help further the improvement of our community. It makes a lot of sense to me. … I think transportation is one of the perhaps single largest areas for public-private partnerships in this country and right here in Colorado.
At 29 minutes, 32 seconds, Thielen asks, “Well let me ask you about the present downturn… There were a lot of things that fed into it. But the thing that made this thing just horrendous is credit disappeared. … Cutting taxes doesn’t do squat for getting the credit unstuck. … Do you think what they did up to now was a reasonably good attempt to address it?”
I’m not sure that tax relief doesn’t do squat. Because one of the reasons that credit markets are so tight… is there continues to be a lack of confidence in where the economy will go. Will we start to produce, will we start to flourish, or will we continue to… either stagnate or perhaps move in the south direction? That’s a factor in credit markets that perhaps is less tangible but exists…
Tax relief… is a part of the solution ultimately in getting the economy going. But what we’re able to achieve, if we’re able to stimulate the economy, is confidence. … What I’m advocating for is looking ways in which government perhaps can reduce… taxation on business and to the individual in order to incentivize private consumption and investment in industry.
At minute marker 33, Frazier discusses federal “stimulus” spending:
The results have not quite been what has been expected or touted. … I believe that that stimulus package would have been better suited had it focused more on infrastructure and development in this country. … Six percent actually went towards transportation infrastructure. … I believe that that was insufficient. If you want to do a stimulus package and you’re seeking to build longer-lasting jobs, it seemed to me that, if you’re not going to look at investment tax credits or, somehow, tax relief for everyone, that you ought to invest in infrastructure, in transportation. … The state of transportation in this country… is bad. … And so it seemed to me that a larger portion, a much larger portion, of the stimulus package, should have been directed toward infrastructure, which would have created a lot of jobs that I believe would have been around longer, had a much larger impact on the economy…
In response to Thielen’s comments about the usefulness of “stimulus” spending for things like education and national parks as well, Frazier responds, “That’s true. I think, when you look at the cost-benefit… transportation infrastructure and education would have probably made the most sense.”
At 38 minutes, 7 seconds, Frazier offers an interesting qualifier:
I agree with you, that productivity ultimately ultimately will increase the economy… That said, the question is how best do you achieve that… I think that’s the debate in the country, is, do you believe that more government spending will result in that? It possibly could. I’m sure you could point to points in our history where that had worked. … There are more instances in history where you could point to how you, not necessarily reduce government, but you reduce the perceived burden of government on individuals and on business, which ultimately leads to… private consumption and investment…
The upshot is that the initial reports were accurate: Frazier explicitly advocated “private-public partnerships” and “stimulus” spending for transportation and education. That Frazier used TaxTracks as his lead example of an allegedly successful public-private partnership did surprise me. (I stopped listening at about the forty minute marker, when Thielen strangely asked about the difference between a scientific fact and theory, so somebody else might want to listen to the rest of the recording for additional insights.)
Obviously Frazier is more enthusiastic about lowering taxes, and less enthusiastic about “stimulus” spending, than many Democrats. His view of “stimulus” spending during a recession is not that it’s always necessary, but that it’s sometimes useful. He showed serious interest in limiting federal spending to particular, widely popular sorts of projects. So Frazier is not as bad as Barack Obama or George W. Bush when it comes to violating economic liberty on the alter of Keynesian economics.
But Frazier still has some deep problems. I’ll discuss two of his problems briefly, one of economics and one of political philosophy.
“Stimulus” spending is on net destructive to the economy despite its prejudicial title. It is more accurately called welfare spending, and often it is corporate welfare. Candidates are less inclined to admit they endorse corporate welfare than they are to claim they favor “stimulus” spending.
Forced wealth transfers deprive the voluntary economy of critically needed resources. Frazier is right that lack of confidence is a big problem: and the biggest contributer to this lack of confidence is a federal government intent on imposing capricious and ever-changing controls on the economy. The economy still suffers under the looming threats of cap-and-trade and a political health takeover, to mention just two examples. So the federal government should get the hell out of the way of economic recovery, then it should give people the freedom to invest their own resources as they see fit. Tragically named “stimulus” spending only interferes with the recovery process. At best it creates less-productive make-work that contributes little to long-term recovery while squandering resources.
Then there is the Constitutional problem. If there is an argument for spending federal tax dollars on transportation and education, as Frazier advocates, it has nothing to do with “stimulating” the economy, for again the wealth is forcibly transfered away from voluntary exchanges. But Article I, Section 8 doesn’t even mention education as an approved federal function, and it mentions only “post roads” regarding transportation “infrastructure.” Apparently Frazier is of the “fluid Constitution” school.
The more fundamental issue is the basic one of political philosophy. DeGrow talks about “limited government.” Thielen discusses a “role for government” — without bothering to define what that role should be. Frazier combines the two vague phrases, apparently on the theory that the solution to ambiguity is to compound it.
What conservatives and “liberals” hardly ever discuss is what they think government is fundamentally for. Saying we need “more” or “less” government, robust or “limited” government, evades the central issue. Invoking vague phrases such as “the common welfare” begs the question of what constitutes welfare and when welfare is properly common. Everyone (save nihilists and self-refuting anarchists) wants both a robust and a limited government: a government that does very well whatever it is it should be doing and that doesn’t do whatever it should leave alone. The critical question is, what purposes does a government properly serve?
My view, rooted in classical liberal theory and the more recent ideas of Ayn Rand, is that the proper role of government is to protect individual rights, including those of property and voluntary association. Thus, so-called “stimulus” spending is not only economic folly but moral depravity. I want government to robustly protect individual rights, and I want government limited to that function.
Perhaps in some future interview Frazier will offer his answer to this fundamental question, then explain how that answer relates to his particular policy prescriptions.