The title of a recent article by Jonathan Chait in New York Magazine was eye-catching: “I”ve seen the future of a Republican Party that is not insane.”

Chait’s essay focused on a relatively unknown think tank: the Niskanen Center. The Center was named for a now-deceased economist who served in the Reagan Administration and then worked for the libertarian Cato Institute. Toward the end of his life, he began to question libertarianism’s rigid ideological lens. He developed– and expressed– doubts about supply-side economics, based upon–gasp!–evidence that those theories hadn’t worked.

Niskanen’s observation that tax rates needed to reflect actual rather than desired spending levels is banal to right-of-center economists in almost any country. But it was (and is) absolute heresy on the Republican right, which has elevated anti-tax absolutism into a theological principle.

The Center has developed a research agenda that is detached from what Chait calls the “theological certainties” of the current GOP.  Its scholars begin with the audacious assumption–scorned by fringe political activists on the left and pretty much all of the right– that policy should be based upon empirical evidence rather than ideology-cum-theology.

Center scholars have argued against “small-government monomania” and in favor of a social safety net to “increase the public’s tolerance for the dislocations of a dynamic free-market economy.” They have accused libertarianism of hostility to democracy and attributed persistent Republican efforts “to find ways to keep Democrats from voting” to that hostility.

Center scholars have compared libertarian political theories to empirical data, and concluded that the data rebuts “the notion that downward redistribution picks the pockets of makers and doles it out to layabout takers.” They have acknowledged that countries with more generous social safety nets have more robust market economies and more individual freedom.

The Center recently issued a paper conceding that an oversimplified small-government vision fails to come to terms with important facts about political and economic life, including the persistence of structural racism. The libertarian belief that capitalism’s rewards are based almost exclusively on merit and hard work ignores the massive inequality that was originally produced by brute force.

Although the paper argues convincingly that market forces do a better job than central planners, it also notes that most of the regulations movement conservatives target are those that advance legitimate social objectives — protecting health, safety and the environment — and impose costs on existing firms. The regulations they believe do need to be scaled back are rules imposed by state and local governments to protect owners of businesses and land.

That is, they recognize that regulations can be either good or bad–and they argue that Republicans are attacking the wrong ones. To oppose regulation per se is to ignore the realities of 21st Century economies.

Chait’s reference to ideology as “theology” illuminates the central problem of our times: “true believers” of all sorts who elevate fact-free belief over evidence, who reject the complexities of the real world in favor of a simple one defined by  bright lines and moral absolutes, and who are profoundly uncomfortable with ambiguity.

It’s a short step from “true believer” to cult member–and today’s GOP looks more and more like a cult. If insanity is the rejection of evidence-based decision-making, Chait’s title makes perfect sense.


  1. Finally, a conservative who can think and not believe blindly and pray that his cocamamy theory will work.

  2. Excellent post. How long before the Niskanen Center and their recent paper are trashed on Faux News as some libtard commie plot?

  3. He had doubts about supply-side economics? That scheme was empirically disproved more than six years ago by the Congressional Research Service (see below). And, not surprisingly, the real Republican Party (not the wished-for one) did their best to suppress the report. It’d be wonderful if Mr. Chait’s late-in-life epiphany were to take root in the Republican Party. Unfortunately, the only way they can appeal to their base is to continue on the road of intellectual, moral, and ethical bankruptcy.

  4. any way its done,thenworking class will always be from now on a cash cow to support this supression of american workers. think tanks are hired and taken to task,whenever someone disagrees, isnt satisfied with,or looks to change something,for someones not educated in this field,but as ive witnessed,since reagan,weve been led to a plank of nails to walk on, anytime,the politics,help wall street to,again,steal from our pockets. (wages)..make this whole thing easy to understand,and we will have a yellow vest stand here in America. I listen to many a think tanks research from foreign policy to school,to military and economcs,etc..,its been led down a path few can undestand,and kept that way. im looking at former senators and congress people who now belong to such mind sweats,it makes you believe its too deep, when in actallity, its just finding ways to steal from whoever they want,and what they want. if they practice civility,its cloaked in a shiny package,until,its opened..maybe we need to really expose who and why they work for,and who and why they,whoever it is,put thier ideas to answers.and put the names on the paper. this present admin in washington,has really opened alot of minds up,and we are asking questions,im sure some think tank is finding ways to hide and change the subject.

  5. Well golly, a Republican who looks at actual evidence! First you tell me that the sky is blue then you say Voodoo economics don’t work? Well that depends on what you’re trying to achieve and it looks to me like they most certainly did achieve their number one goal: Improve the economic position of the wealthy.

  6. Chait “…illuminates the central problem of” JACK SMITH’S POST: “true believers” of all sorts …, WHO REJECT THE COMPLEXITIES OF THE REAL WORLD IN FAVOR OF A SIMPLE ONE …, and who are profoundly uncomfortable with ambiguity.”

  7. The theological component in right-wing thinking was described in the 1960s by Richard Hofstadter. He their thinking is essentially Manichean. That says it all.

  8. I know there has to be a perfectly good reason why Jack Smith does not use any capital letters in his responses. What is it?

  9. And thanks to the GOP run Congress, we have a 2 trillion dollar debt now. So we’re spending 2 trillion more tax dollars than we’re getting from taxes (from those rich people) and again as Cheney declared deficits don’t matter. We’re screwed.

  10. It’s not surprising that the Time of Trump has started to awake some Republicans to the obvious. However it’s probably not a “wave” change. Our job remains the same. Support Mueller and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schummer; carefully consider the Democrat primary process to select the best team we can; unite, unite, unite behind the results of it.

    Democrats are very obviously not perfect but consider the alternative.

  11. From the above:
    “The libertarian belief that capitalism’s rewards are based almost exclusively on merit and hard work ignores the massive inequality that was originally produced by brute force.”

    Libertarianism is just the Think Tank – Political expression of Ayn Rand.

    All American citizens maybe born with equal rights. At birth though is where equal rights meets opportunity. Depending upon the economic status of your parents, your life can be predetermined into what paths you have open to you.

  12. The problem (though framed and discussed through the lens of meritocracy – which Piketty thoroughly destroys in his book, Capitalism in the Twenty First Century) is that these ideologues first set the goal (market capitalism and forever growth) and then construct the means of achieving those goals.

    The Randian goal of oblivious libertarians is to enrich the already rich at the expense of the rest of us, and with the purchase of the Republican Party by libertarians like the Kochs and the Mercers who, along with their congressional stooges such as Amash of Michigan, Paul of Kentucky and their fellow travelers, have done a good job in achieving such goals, so good that they have stirred up a socialist hornet’s nest among our youth today, a not unusual reaction to overkill whether left or right.

    Paradoxically, I think Trump’s entrance into the fray with his market-distorting tariffs and trade games is contrary to the interest of libertarian goals as demonstrated by Dow ups and downs and that we plebs may have an unlikely ally (though for different reasons) in this brawl to restore market equilibrium. We cannot do much to bring money mad libertarians back into the fold, but we can end the market distorting tactics of Trump via his premature removal from office, which is my current preoccupation.

  13. “Libertarianism is just the Think Tank – Political expression of Ayn Rand.” Of course it is. The MOST selfish and the MOST greedy are all in for this. These bastards use Rand and their peculiar “ism” as an excuse to hide their grievous sins of exploitation. I doubt the word “libertarian” was known in the 17th century South, but it was surely practiced there. Same idea.

    “We cannot do much to bring money mad libertarians back into the fold, but we can end the market distorting tactics of Trump via his premature removal from office, which is my current preoccupation.” A perfect quote to do what is most urgently needed. Mitch McConnell’s recent reiteration of his utterly criminal obstructionism is the expression of a dying political movement and party.

    That said, there is still a lot more dying off of those old, white, greedy, corrupt idiots in the Republican party before it will be allowed to return to Earth. The president is a blithering idiot. His attorney says “…truth isn’t really truth…” Mitch McConnell is a doddering, corrupt bastard serving at the knee of the capitalists. The echoes of Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan still pour psychedelic drugs into the Republican economic philosophy.

    The trick is going to be to keep the nation alive until Republicanism dies off. The problem with that is that the corporate sponsors and billionaire donors may not allow it to happen. They have their “D” team in place (They didn’t want to spend more than they had to for the current collection of corrupt politicians.) and will ride them as long as the voters allow it.

  14. This future view of sane Republicans made me think of an old Kris Kristofferson song, “Me And Bobbie McGee”. “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose, nothin’ ain’t worth nothin’ but it’s free”. We may still have our freedom in a basic sense but we have much less left to lose after the past two years. If nothing the Trump administration and the Republican Congress lost or threw away could not wake the party up to the insanity of the man and his methods; can the new Democratic controlled House do more than bring it to a possible standstill with Trump, his administration and McConnell and his ownership of the Senate still in charge. Our current situation and our future is still in the hands of the Republican insanity until and unless the 2020 election turns them out.

    As Theresa so wisely stated; “Too Little…Too Late”

    Few Americans will be convinced of any semblance of a “return to sanity” and fewer of our foreign allies will ever again put full trust in the United States again.

  15. From the Guardian:
    Democratic leaders emerged from the meeting on Friday afternoon reporting that the political logjam had not been cleared and the president had said he is prepared to close the government “for a very long time, even years” if there was no deal.

    I know this is an oxymoron, but if there was any good judgement or courage on the part of the Republicans they could rebel against President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence.

    The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, a Republican, will not support the legislation and has pledged not to pass anything the president will not sign.

    You think about all the workers with no paychecks. How will they pay their bills?? These days you do not have your friendly local banker or grocery store that will extend you credit until you can pay off your debt. Utilities will continue to send out bills.

    The immense cruelty of President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence is approved by the Republican Party. These are soulless creatures.

  16. “You think about all the workers with no paychecks. How will they pay their bills??”

    Monotonous; obviously you missed the reporter who asked Trump, as a landlord, how would they deal with not receiving payment…Trump believes they will work with the people who are unable to pay. He also said this (he doesn’t call it a “shutdown”) shutdown could last months or years and believes those he put out of work would want him to continue.

    I kept turning away and turning back; like a terrible accident I couldn’t stop returning to watch then couldn’t stand to watch any longer. He was like an automaton on fast forward; unending lies, distortions and unbelievable misrepresentations. Still insisting Mexico will pay for with the taxes they pay on goods which don’t go to government and consumers pay those taxes and tariffs. The head of Homeland Security said they have stopped or held more than 3,000 terrorist suspects at the border…why have we not been told this and where are they?

    Personally; I support Pelosi, Schumer and Durbin for not backing down on refusing to deal with the wall as part of the border security they DO support. Day Two of Democratic control of the House; status quo. Except Trump appears crazier than ever; during one of the early times I turned away during the one hour of Trump, Pence disappeared from behind him. Hmmm; I didn’t know that was allowed.

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