"A conservative is somebody who thinks every market is efficient except the Treasury bond market."
This was immediately after Megan McArdle said, "People hate the debt! Everyone hates borrowing money!"
And just before Avik Roy, for his part, declared the debt "The most profound economic problem." His evidence? His prediction that "In 2040 you will be very concerned about the price of Treasuries!"
I came across this video while searching for a picture that included Roy and Yuval Levin, two conservative intellectuals. I was surprised, by the way, at how few I could find.
Why was I looking for that? Someone asked me last week if I had read a recent piece in Vox, "A Republican intellectual explains why the Republican Party is going to die." I did, and it reminded me of a similar piece in Vox the week before, "Conservative intellectual Yuval Levin on how the Republican Party lost its way."
I intend to get to both of those shortly -- I promise.
But this panel discussion I'm referring to was interesting in that it provided a window into conservative thinking two years before the current election cycle. (Don't bother watching it -- it's an hour and a half long and -- despite what I just said -- is a little tedious.)
In addition to Barro, McArdle, Roy and Levin, the panel included David Brooks as moderator and Reihan Salam.
Levin starts off the discussion (at about 3:30) by saying that "conservatism and the Republican Party are not connecting with the problems of the day."
Barro got a little more specific when he noted (at about 7:00) that a core problem is the decoupling of productivity growth from wage growth, or in other words, the stagnation of middle-class wealth and incomes.
Was Donald Trump watching this back in 2014?
Barro also mentioned that conservatives are still fighting the problems of the 1970s (over-regulation and high marginal tax rates) and still offering the same solutions from before the 2008 financial crisis.
Levin echoed this somewhat (I'm too lazy to find exactly where) by making the point (and a good one) that both parties are gripped by a kind of nostalgia for the post-World War II era.
As I'm sure you can imagine, there was no mention anywhere of the 2016 Republican nominee, but the usual names -- Senators Mike Lee and Marco Rubio -- were offered up as examples of innovative conservative thinkers (oxymoron?).
I'm always fascinated by the esteem in which Party bigwigs hold Rubio -- he must be a lot more impressive in private than he is in public. And that illustrates another challenge for Republicans: their difficulty in speaking to the average voter. Rubio's famous line, "Let's dispel once and for all with this fiction that Barack Obama doesn't know what he's doing; he knows exactly what he's doing," might have been problematic not just because he repeated it so often, but because it insulted the intelligence of the average voter. While that's certainly red meat for the base, the typical American doesn't think of President Obama as some sort of Manchurian candidate.
In many ways, this discussion was illustrative of the gulf between the GOP's intellectuals and office-holders on the one hand and its base on the other. And the Republican Party has lost touch not just with its own voters but the entire electorate. I wonder what the panelists would say if they watched it today.