What To Do About Right-Wing Rural Voters (and Others)

“Can Anything Be Done To Assuage Rural Rage?” That was the title of Paul Krugman’s NY Times column on Thursday. He described the problem but wasn’t sure how to solve it. On Friday, Brian Beutler made a suggestion in his Big Tent newsletter. First, some of Krugman:

Rural resentment has become a central fact of American politics — in particular, a pillar of support for the rise of right-wing extremism. As the Republican Party has moved ever further into MAGAland, it has lost votes among educated suburban voters; but this has been offset by a drastic rightward shift in rural areas… But is this shift permanent? Can anything be done to assuage rural rage?

The answer will depend on two things: whether it’s possible to improve rural lives and restore rural communities, and whether the voters in these communities will give politicians credit for any improvements that do take place.

Katherine Cramer, the author of The Politics of Resentment … attributes rural resentment to perceptions that rural areas are ignored by policymakers, don’t get their fair share of resources and are disrespected by “city folks”.

As it happens, all three perceptions are largely wrong….

The truth is that ever since the New Deal rural America has received special treatment from policymakers. It’s not just farm subsidies, which [in 2020] accounted for around 40 percent of total farm income. Rural America also benefits from special programs that support housing, utilities and business in general.

In terms of resources, major federal programs disproportionately benefit rural areas, in part because such areas have a disproportionate number of seniors receiving Social Security and Medicare. But even means-tested programs — programs that Republicans often disparage as “welfare” — tilt rural. Notably, at this point rural Americans are more likely than urban Americans to be on Medicaid and receive food stamps.

And because rural America is poorer than urban America, it pays much less per person in federal taxes, so in practice major metropolitan areas hugely subsidize the countryside. These subsidies don’t just support incomes; they support economies: Government and the so-called health care and social assistance sector each employ more people in rural America than agriculture, and what do you think pays for those jobs?

What about rural perceptions of being disrespected? Well, many people have negative views about people with different lifestyles; that’s human nature. There is, however, an unwritten rule in American politics that it’s OK for politicians to seek rural votes by insulting big cities and their residents, but it would be unforgivable for urban politicians to return the favor. “I have to go to New York City soon,” tweeted J.D. Vance during his senatorial campaign. “I have heard it’s disgusting and violent there.” Can you imagine, say, Chuck Schumer saying something similar about rural Ohio, even as a joke?

So the ostensible justifications for rural resentment don’t withstand scrutiny — but that doesn’t mean things are fine. A changing economy has increasingly favored metropolitan areas with large college-educated work forces over small towns. The rural working-age population has been declining, leaving seniors behind. Rural men in their prime working years are much more likely than their metropolitan counterparts to not be working. Rural woes are real.

Ironically, however, the policy agenda of the party most rural voters support would make things even worse, slashing the safety-net programs these voters depend on….

But can they also have a positive agenda for rural renewal? As The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent recently pointed out, the infrastructure spending bills enacted under President Biden, while primarily intended to address climate change, will also create large numbers of blue-collar jobs in rural areas and small cities. They are, in practice, a form of the “place-based industrial policy” some economists have urged to fight America’s growing geographic disparities….

But even if these policies improve rural fortunes, will Democrats get any credit?

Prof. Krugman is skeptical. Brian Beutler is too. But he has a suggestion:

By certain measures, we’re living through a brighter morning in America than the younger half of the population has ever experienced. Not by all measures. [But] unemployment has never been lower. The inflation crisis you heard so much about wasn’t imaginary, but it was more than offset for most workers by higher wages, and in any case, it appears to have ended months ago. A greater percentage of Americans have health insurance than ever before. And the economy is poised for huge investments in domestic manufacturing, infrastructure, and clean energy. 

Plug it all into some of the tidier theories of American politics, and you’d expect us to be living through an era of calm and good feeling, a fallow season for demagogues who fan mass grievances for personal enrichment and political gain.

And yet…. Right-wing madness doesn’t seem to have receded, at least as a temptation for Republican politicians….The reality of our strong economy has not defined perceptions of it, which have tended to resemble doom-laced political reporting and outright propaganda, rather than raw data gathered by government agencies and other researchers. A huge percentage of Americans believes that the country is in the midst of a recession. Inflation remained a major, stated concern for voters long after prices had stabilized….

The prevailing orthodoxy continues to hold that the best way to head off a MAGA takeover runs through the pocketbooks of Republican voters, or by conceding to their cultural grievances….

What if elections were instead about the things that most disgust voters about Republicans? The things that just cost Republicans so dearly in Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania and elsewhere? What if the best way to defeat the fascist threat isn’t with a bottom-up approach of deradicalization-through-industrial-policy, but a top-down approach of exposing and revolting against the GOP’s corrupt, medieval politics? Or at least, why not try both?

… In a world where concerted messaging can persuade most people that a good economy is actually bad, and where issue salience is often a function of passing propaganda campaigns and media fixations, it’s … strange to assume that Republican-coded cultural issues are the only ones that might preoccupy voters ahead of an election. Especially after 2022. I think we have enough experience by now to understand what MAGA really is, and how to make Republican politicians regret clothing themselves in it.

Back in 2015 and 2016 the centrist political establishment … were at pains to explain the effect D____ T____ had on his rallygoers—the way they’d thrill to his attacks on Mexicans and Muslims and others—as an artifact of their “economic anxiety.” Journalists needed a way to explain what everyone was seeing without appearing biased against Republicans. Conservatives wanted to paper over the pathologies of the GOP base for brand-management purposes. Progressives wanted to go to bat for the salutary effects of egalitarian economic policy.

I had this gag at the time that admittedly got a bit out of hand, where a T____ supporter, rich or poor, would do something capital-D Deplorable on camera, and I’d say he was simply anxious about wage competition from low-skilled immigrants or whatever. Point is, it was clear even then that the appeal was the fascism itself… Voters don’t dislike Democrats for principally economic reasons. They prefer Republicans because they are swamped with right-wing rhetoric and ideas and lies that they find appealing or presume to be true, and the best way to disrupt that dynamic is to alter the informational stew with new ingredients.

The principal reason to build a more egalitarian polity is that you think it’s important for people to lead fulfilling and secure lives….. If you want people to embrace the promise of liberal democracy, you have to persuade them of its inherent virtues, not fatten their wallets and hope they can be made to believe the extra cash came from liberalism. If you want voters to abandon politicians who are corrupt, dishonest, menacing, you have to convince them that their corruption and dishonesty and menace outweighs anything else about them that might seem appealing. You have to put real effort into making their fundamental faithlessness a liability for them. And we know voters will respond to that effort, because they just did [in the 2022 election].

Problems and Solutions: A Brief Recitation

As 2022 fades away, David Rothkopf, an author and political analyst, presents a few facts to keep hold of in 2023:

Decades of research have conclusively shown that:

–The solution for homelessness is building homes for those who need them

–The solution for poverty is giving money to those who don’t have it

–The solution to our lack of mental health care is providing mental health care for those who need it

–The solution is to the climate crisis to stop using fossil fuels and stop carbon emissions.

I could go on. The point is that very often the solutions are obvious and politics is the art of obscuring them, distracting from them, making those common sense solutions impossible to achieve.

This May Be the Most Disgusting, Disheartening Thing You Read Today

(Or maybe the second most, since you might read about the fascists and semi-fascists on Fox News and elsewhere attacking Ukraine’s president and being celebrated for doing so on Russian TV.)

For most of us, the company or organization we work for reports our income directly to the government. We’re responsible for accurately reporting deductions and so on and that’s almost always the end of the story. If you’re a certain former president, you can arrange your personal business in such a complex way — making your one company look like 400 or 500 of them — that the I.R.S. will throw up its hands and let you get away with financial murder.

His 2016 and 2017 tax returns show the result.

He claims he lost $32 million more than he earned in 2016. The alternative minimum tax for high income taxpayers still would have resulted in a tax bill of roughly $2 million, but he just so happened to have the same $2 million in tax credits. His total income tax for 2016: $750.

For 2017, his claimed losses were $13 million more than his income. The alternative minimum tax would have been $7 million, but he again had the same amount of credits. The result again: his total income tax was $750.

The New York Times has an explanation:

Before [what’s his name] became president and after, his exceedingly complex and voluminous tax returns came under regular scrutiny by the Internal Revenue Service. The number of agents assigned to the audit team: one.

After he left office, the I.R.S. said it was beefing up the audit team, to three. The tax agency itself acknowledged that it was still overwhelmed by the complexity of [his] finances and the resistance mounted by the former president and his sophisticated army of accountants and lawyers, which included a former I.R.S. chief counsel and raised questions early last year about why even three revenue agents should be assigned to audit him.

“With over 400 flow-thru returns reported on [his] Form 1040, it is not possible to obtain the resources available to examine all potential issues,” I.R.S. agents said … in an internal memo … released by the House Ways and Means Committee this week….

The committee reports released this week highlight how depleted the I.R.S. has become in the last decade, as Republicans starved it of funding. They also show how the agency has become increasingly unable to crack down on wealthy taxpayers who push the legal limits to lower their tax bills and have the means to fend off audits if they get caught.

That has led to a $7 trillion “tax gap” of revenue over a decade that is owed but goes uncollected, in many cases from superrich taxpayers such as [him], who has boasted that he fights to pay as little tax as possible. [The I.R.S. is unable to] match the capacity of an industry dedicated to tax minimization and avoidance.

The agency’s … enforcement staff has fallen by over 30 percent since 2010, and audits of millionaires have declined by more than 70 percent. Its budget has declined by nearly 20 percent, when accounting for inflation, during the last decade.

Republicans have for years accused the I.R.S. of political bias and unfairly targeting conservatives. For that reason [no, the article should say “claiming that is the reason”], they have fought to cut the agency’s funding or, in some cases, called to abolish it altogether.

The spending package that Congress is voting on this week reduces the base funding levels for the I.R.S. by $275 million to $12.32 billion, which Republicans hailed as a victory. However, that does not account for the $80 billion in supplemental funding that the I.R.S. was granted through the Inflation Reduction Act this year to buttress its resources over the next decade and hire more than 80,000 agents and staff members. The Biden administration has broad discretion over how and when to deploy that money to modernize the agency and bolster its enforcement capacity.

The Treasury Department, which oversees the I.R.S., is planning to use some of those funds to hire more auditors who can tackle complicated tax returns.

Charles P. Rettig, who was appointed as I.R.S. commissioner by [the ex-president] and left the post last month, …  suggested in an email to The New York Times that the additional funding the agency is receiving will help it undertake such complex examinations.

“I.R.S. desperately needs additional specialized examiners and related support to conduct additional meaningful examinations of complex individual returns involving partnerships and tiered arrangements of partnerships and similar pass-through entities, foreign transactions, complex financial arrangements and similar,” Mr. Rettig said….

The Biden administration has emphasized its ambitions of modernizing the antiquated technology at the I.R.S. and improving its customer service. In an August memo laying out how the money would be deployed, Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said the agency would be focused on cracking down on rich tax dodgers and big companies that have long evaded paying what they owe to the federal government.

She also promised that middle-class households would not face more onerous scrutiny and that their audit rates would not rise. “These investments will not result in households earning $400,000 per year or less or small businesses seeing an increase in the chances that they are audited relative to historical levels,” Ms. Yellen wrote. “Instead, they will allow the I.R.S. to work to end the two-tiered tax system, where most Americans pay what they owe, but those at the top of the distribution often do not.”

The revelations about [the I.R.S. not properly auditing the ex-president’s returns] laid bare the difficulty that the I.R.S. has had in auditing the rich. The former president proved to be particularly uncooperative, as his team failed to provide facts needed to resolve certain issues and threatened to protest or appeal the process….

The report suggested that as the I.R.S. tried to work its way through [his] maze of tax returns, revenue agents [took] for granted that the assertions made by [his] accounting firm were true. Michael J. Graetz, the deputy assistant secretary for tax policy at the Treasury Department from 1990 to 1991, said the acquiescence of the I.R.S. to big accounting firms was striking…..

An agency memo that was recounted in the report described an audit team manager laying out the daunting nature of [the ex-president’s] returns.

“This return has about 400 flow-through returns reported on Schedule E and, since some of these are tiered, report a total of about 500 flow-through returns,” the auditor said. Underscoring the need for more resources, the memo went on to say that to “do a thorough review of these returns, we would need a team much larger than the current team.”

However, as you would expect:

The funds for the I.R.S. are expected to become one of the first big fights in Congress next year when Republicans take control of the House, as Representative Kevin McCarthy, the California Republican who is seeking to become speaker, signaled in September.

“On that very first day that we’re sworn in, you’ll see that it all changes,” Mr. McCarthy said. “Because on our very first bill, we’re going to repeal 87,000 I.R.S. agents. Our job is to work for you, not go after you.” In November, Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, [declared:] “I think we ought to fight an epic, knock-down, drag-out fight over stopping the Democrats from funding 87,000 new I.R.S. agents…”

Understanding How We Got Here, or How a Defunct Economist Would Make Us Slaves

As Christmas approaches, why not spend a few minutes reading about the little-known economist who did so much to burden America and other countries with a brand of economics and politics that would have warmed Scrooge’s cold, cold heart? Lynn Parramore of the Institute for New Economic Thinking wrote about him in 2018:

Ask people to name the key minds that have shaped America’s burst of radical right-wing attacks on working conditions, consumer rights and public services, and they will typically mention figures like free market-champion Milton Friedman, libertarian guru Ayn Rand, and laissez-faire economists Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.

James McGill Buchanan is a name you will rarely hear unless you’ve taken several classes in economics. And if [Buchanan] were alive today, it would suit him just fine that most well-informed journalists, liberal politicians, and even many economics students have little understanding of his work.

The reason? Duke historian Nancy MacLean contends that his philosophy is so stark that even young libertarian acolytes are only introduced to it after they have accepted the relatively sunny perspective of Ayn Rand. (Yes, you read that correctly). If Americans really knew what Buchanan thought and promoted, and how destructively his vision is manifesting under their noses, it would dawn on them how close the country is to a transformation most would not even want to imagine, much less accept.

That is a dangerous blind spot, MacLean argues in a meticulously researched book, Democracy in Chains

Buchanan … started out as a conventional public finance economist. But he grew frustrated by the way in which economic theorists ignored the political process. He began working on a description of power that started out as a critique of how institutions functioned in the relatively liberal 1950s and ‘60s… Buchanan, MacLean notes, was incensed at what he saw as a move toward socialism and deeply suspicious of any form of state action that channels resources to the public. Why should the increasingly powerful federal government be able to force the wealthy to pay for goods and programs that served ordinary citizens and the poor?

In thinking about how people make political decisions and choices, Buchanan concluded that you could only understand them as individuals seeking personal advantage. In an interview cited by MacLean, the economist observed that in the 1950s Americans commonly assumed that elected officials wanted to act in the public interest. Buchanan vehemently disagreed…

His view of human nature was distinctly dismal. Adam Smith saw human beings as self-interested and hungry for personal power and material comfort, but he also acknowledged social instincts like compassion and fairness. Buchanan, in contrast, insisted that people were primarily driven by venal self-interest. Crediting people with altruism or a desire to serve others was “romantic” fantasy: politicians and government workers were out for themselves, and so, for that matter, were teachers, doctors, and civil rights activists. They wanted to control others and wrest away their resources: “Each person seeks mastery over a world of slaves,” he wrote in his 1975 book, The Limits of Liberty.

Does that sound like your kindergarten teacher? It did to Buchanan.

The people who needed protection were property owners, and their rights could only be secured though constitutional limits to prevent the majority of voters from encroaching on them… MacLean observes that Buchanan saw society as a cutthroat realm of makers (entrepreneurs) constantly under siege by takers (everybody else) His own language was often more stark, warning the alleged “prey” of “parasites” and “predators” out to fleece them.

In 1965 the economist launched a center dedicated to his theories… MacLean describes how he trained thinkers to push back against the Brown v. Board of Education decision to desegregate America’s public schools… She notes that he took care to use economic and political precepts, rather than overtly racial arguments, to make his case, which nonetheless gave cover to racists who knew that spelling out their prejudices would alienate the country….

[Buchanan] focused on how democracy constrains property owners and aimed for ways to restrict the latitude of voters. [MacClean] argues that unlike even the most property-friendly founders Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, Buchanan wanted a private governing elite of corporate power that was wholly released from public accountability.

Suppressing voting, changing legislative processes so that a normal majority could no longer prevail, sowing public distrust of government institutions— all these were tactics toward the goal….

In nurturing a new intelligentsia to commit to his values, Buchanan stated that he needed a “gravy train,” and with backers like Charles Koch and conservative foundations like the Scaife Family Charitable Trusts, others hopped aboard. Money, Buchanan knew, can be a persuasive tool in academia. His circle of influence began to widen….

MacLean describes how the economist developed a grand project to train operatives to staff institutions funded by like-minded tycoons, most significantly Charles Koch, who became interested in his work in the ‘70s… Koch, whose mission was to save capitalists like himself from democracy, found the ultimate theoretical tool in [Buchanan’s] work. [MacClean] writes that Koch preferred Buchanan to [conservative economist] Milton Friedman and his “[University of]Chicago boys” because, she says, quoting a libertarian insider, they wanted “to make government work more efficiently when the true libertarian should be tearing it out at the root.”

With Koch’s money and enthusiasm, Buchanan’s academic school evolved into something much bigger. By the 1990s, Koch realized that Buchanan’s ideas — transmitted through stealth and deliberate deception, as MacLean amply documents — could help take government down through incremental assaults that the media would hardly notice. The tycoon knew that the project was extremely radical, even a “revolution” in governance, but he talked like a conservative to make his plans sound more palatable.

MacLean details how partnered with Koch, Buchanan’s [center] at George Mason University was able to connect libertarian economists with right-wing political actors and supporters [at] corporations like Shell Oil, Exxon, Ford, IBM, Chase Manhattan Bank, and General Motors. Together they could push economic ideas to the public through media, promote new curricula for economics education, and court politicians in nearby Washington, D.C.

… MacLean recounts that Buchanan … focused on such affronts to capitalists as environmentalism and public health and welfare, expressing eagerness to dismantle Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare as well as kill public education because it tended to foster community values. Feminism had to go too…

Buchanan’s ideas began to have huge impact, especially in America and in Britain….The economist was deeply involved in efforts to cut taxes on the wealthy in 1970s and 1980s and he advised proponents of Reagan Revolution in their quest to unleash markets and posit government as the “problem” rather than the “solution.” The Koch-funded Virginia school coached scholars, lawyers, politicians, and business people to apply stark right-wing perspectives on everything from deficits to taxes to school privatization. In Britain, Buchanan’s work helped to inspire the public sector reforms of Margaret Thatcher and her political progeny.

To put the success into perspective, MacLean points to the fact that [law professor] Henry Manne, whom Buchanan was instrumental in hiring, created legal programs for law professors and federal judges which could boast that by 1990 two of every five sitting federal judges had participated. “40 percent of the U.S. federal judiciary,” writes MacLean, “had been treated to a Koch-backed curriculum.”

MacLean illustrates that in South America, Buchanan was able to first truly set his ideas in motion by helping a bare-knuckles dictatorship ensure the permanence of much of the radical transformation it inflicted on [Chile], a country that had been a beacon of social progress. The historian emphasizes that Buchanan’s role in the disastrous Pinochet government …has been underestimated partly because unlike Milton Friedman, who advertised his activities, Buchanan had the shrewdness to keep his involvement quiet.

The dictator’s human rights abuses and pillage of the country’s resources did not seem to bother Buchanan, MacLean argues, so long as the wealthy got their way. “Despotism may be the only organizational alternative to the political structure that we observe,” the economist had written in The Limits of Liberty….

[MacClean] observes that many liberals have missed the point of strategies like privatization. Efforts to “reform” public education and Social Security are not just about a preference for the private sector over the public sector, she argues. You can wrap your head around those, even if you don’t agree. Instead, MacLean contends, the goal of these strategies is to radically alter power relations, weakening pro-public forces and enhancing the lobbying power and commitment of the corporations that take over public services and resources, thus advancing the plans to dismantle democracy and make way for a return to oligarchy. The majority will be held captive so that the wealthy can finally be free to do as they please, no matter how destructive.

MacLean argues that despite the rhetoric…, shrinking big government is not really the point. The oligarchs require a government with tremendous new powers so that they can bypass the will of the people. This, as MacLean points out, requires greatly expanding police powers “to control the resultant popular anger”…

Could these right-wing capitalists allow private companies to fill prisons with helpless citizens—or, more profitable still, rights-less undocumented immigrants? They could, and have. Might they engineer a retirement crisis by moving Americans to inadequate 401(k)s? Done. Take away the rights of consumers and workers to bring grievances to court by making them sign forced arbitration agreements? Check. Gut public education to the point where ordinary people have such bleak prospects that they have no energy to fight back? Getting it done.

Would they even refuse children clean water? Actually, yes. MacLean notes that in Flint, Michigan, Americans got a taste of what the emerging oligarchy will look like… There, the Koch-funded Mackinac Center pushed for legislation that would allow the governor to take control of communities facing emergency and put unelected managers in charge. In Flint, one such manager switched the city’s water supply to a polluted river…Tens of thousands of children were exposed to lead…

Economist Tyler Cowen has provided an economic justification for this kind of brutality, stating that where it is difficult to get clean water, private companies should take over and make people pay for it. “This includes giving them the right to cut off people who don’t—or can’t—pay their bills”…

Research like MacLean’s provides hope that toxic ideas like Buchanan’s may finally begin to face public scrutiny. Yet at this very moment, the Kochs’ State Policy Network and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that connects corporate agents to conservative lawmakers to produce legislation, are involved in projects that the … media hardly notices, like pumping money into state judicial races. Their aim is to stack the legal deck against Americans in ways that MacLean argues may have even bigger effects than Citizens United, the 2010 Supreme Court ruling which unleashed unlimited corporate spending on American politics. The goal is to create a judiciary that will interpret the Constitution in favor of corporations and the wealthy in ways that Buchanan would have heartily approved.

“The United States is now at one of those historic forks in the road whose outcome will prove as fateful as those of the 1860s, the 1930s, and the 1960s,” writes MacLean. “To value liberty for the wealthy minority above all else and enshrine it in the nation’s governing rules, as [Buchanan] called for and the Koch network is achieving, play by play, is to consent to an oligarchy in all but the outer husk of representative form.”

Unquote.

For the record, quoting John Maynard Keynes:

The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed the world is ruled by little else. Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.

Especially if billionaires are spreading the scribbler’s ideas.

It’s a Global Problem — They’d Make It Worse

I’m avoiding polls and speculation about the upcoming midterm election and don’t see political advertisements, but political news and commentary does get through. Today, Paul Krugman discussed the state of the economy and pointed out that Republican politicians don’t have a plan to address what they say is the country’s biggest problem (since the climate crisis isn’t real, women shouldn’t have equal rights and democracy is overrated):

Few things I’ve written in recent years have generated as much hate mail as a relatively low-key, somewhat nerdy newsletter I put out just before the release of data on gross domestic product for the second quarter of 2022. In that newsletter I explained why, despite a lot of misinformation in the news media, a recession is not defined as two quarters of declining G.D.P. and the first half of 2022 was unlikely to meet the actual, multidimensional criteria used by the committee that determines whether a recession has started.

The reason for the hate mail was, of course, that Republicans were eager to declare a “Biden recession” and falsely accused the administration of a double standard when it said that we were not, in fact, in a recession.

Well, Thursday’s advance G.D.P. report for the third quarter of 2022 showed why a recession call based on two quarters of somewhat bizarre data would have been all wrong. Economic growth has rebounded, back up to 2.6 percent at an annual rate — putting G.D.P. back in line with strong employment growth, which has continued throughout the year. Do you really want to say that we were in a recession from January through June but have miraculously recovered?

… Suffice it to say, we weren’t in a recession earlier this year and aren’t in a recession now, although we could find ourselves in one in the future as delayed effects of rising interest rates kick in.

Politically, however, it may not matter much, because Republicans have largely given up on the recession story. Instead, their economic attacks, in both debates and campaign ads, have been focused overwhelmingly on inflation, especially gas prices.

It therefore seems worth pointing out that the Republican Party doesn’t have a plan to fight inflation. Actually, it doesn’t have any coherent economic plan at all. But to the extent that Republicans have laid out what they will try to do if they win the midterms, their policies would make inflation worse, not better.

When pressed about how, exactly, they would reduce inflation, Republicans often fall back on some version of “Gas was only $2 a gallon when Trump left office!” So let’s talk about that comparison.

First, it’s remarkable how the right has reimagined January 2021 as a golden moment for America. At the time, about 20,000 Americans were dying from Covid every week; there were still nine million fewer jobs than there had been before the pandemic. Indeed, the still-depressed state of major economies, including that of the United States, was the main reason world oil prices were unusually low, which in turn was the main reason gas was cheap.

A better comparison would be with 2019, the year before the pandemic, when gas averaged $2.60 a gallon. Bear in mind that average wages have risen about 15 percent over the past three years, so gas would be as affordable now as it was in 2019 if its current average price were $2.99. As of Wednesday, it was $3.75. So yes, gas has become less affordable, but not by nearly as much as Republicans claim.

And despite Republican rhetoric, Biden administration policies have had little impact on gas prices, which have been driven by events affecting world markets — notably Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — and to some extent by bottlenecks in refining, which grew worse for several weeks starting in mid-September but have eased again.

So what is the Republican plan to bring gas prices down? There isn’t one.

What about inflation more generally? You can make the case that large deficit spending early in the Biden presidency fed inflation (although it had little effect on the most politically salient prices, for energy and food, which have soared around the world).

If you’re worried about the inflationary impact of budget deficits, however, you should know that almost the only concrete economic policy idea we’re hearing from Republicans is that they want to extend the Trump tax cuts, which would … substantially increase the deficit.

It’s true that many Republicans adhere to an economic ideology that doesn’t see deficits caused by tax cuts as a problem, either because they believe — in the teeth of all the evidence — that tax cuts somehow pay for themselves, or because they believe that government spending, not deficits per se, is what causes problems.

But if you believe that cutting taxes without any plausible plan for offsetting spending cuts isn’t a problem even in a time of inflation, markets beg to disagree. Look at what happened to the pound and British interest rates after Liz Truss, the quickly deposed prime minister, announced an economic plan that, broadly speaking, looks a lot like what Republicans are proposing here. (There’s more to it than that, but still.)

The bottom line is that while the G.O.P.’s election strategy is all about blaming the Biden administration for inflation, the Republican Party doesn’t actually have any plan to reduce inflation. To the extent it has an economic plan at all, it would make inflation worse.

Unquote.

I’ll add that inflation is a global problem (it’s higher in Europe than in the Us) and oil companies are making tremendous profits with gas prices this high. What would a Republican Congress do to restrain oil company profiteering? The question answers itself.