The Complex Psychology Of Economic Sabotage

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JONATHAN CHAIT JUNE 22, 2011

The Complex Psychology Of Economic Sabotage

Republican opposition to a temporary payroll tax cut is spurring Democrats to accuse them of economic sabotage:

Would Republicans really oppose a tax cut for business that created jobs? This is sort of beyond the pale. So if they'd oppose even something so suited to their tastes ideologically, it shows that they're just opposing anything that would help create jobs. It almost makes you wonder if they aren't trying to slow down the economic recovery for political gain

I'm generally uncomfortable with attacks on motive. For one thing, motive is hard to prove. For another, human psychology is such that people rarely act out of conscious venality. Instead they simply convince themselves that what they perceive to be in their best interest is also the right thing to do.

Consider this Mitch McConnell interview about 2012:

I think the President is in tough shape… the President is in a very weak position politically today. We don’t know what it’ll look like in the fall of 201 but today the President’s in a very weak position. And [former Massachusetts Governor Mitt] Romney, just by announcing and getting a wave of press, moved either even or ahead of the President. So I think the President can be defeated. If conditions of Nov. 2012 are anything like they are today, I think he’s got a really tough race on his hands. I’m confident that we’re going to nominate someone who’s going to be a credible, believable alternative. And I think our primaries are – I can’t think of a time when they haven’t nominated somebody who people didn’t feel could handle the job. As long as we do that, and I’m confident we will, then it’ll be a referendum on the President and his performance and if the presidential election were today I think our theme would be: he made it worse.

McConnell is obviously well aware that maintaining a poor economy is the key to his party's success next year. He's a very cynical man, but he's probably not cynical to wake up every day plotting ways to keep unemployment high.

Rather, the question of economic stimulus is always a long-term versus a short-term calculation. You take on more debt for the long term in order to alleviate today's economic emergency. The mainstream economic position has been, and to a somewhat lesser extent remains, very friendly to the view that the current emergency is dire enough to justify taking on more debt to alleviate. But when you change the question to, should we take on more debt to alleviate mass suffering and improve Obama's reelection prospects, then suddenly it's easy to understand why republicans would persuade themselves that no stimulus meets the test.

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posted in: jonathan chait, massachusetts, mitch mcconnell

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