Opinion

BILLINGSLEY: Dumb Ideas Drove CNN’s Detroit Debates

Lloyd Billingsley Policy Fellow, Independent Institute

The Green New Deal and “Medicare-for-all” had already taken major hits before the Democratic presidential debates CNN hosted in Detroit. Even so, in the Motown proceedings, Democratic presidential candidates mounted a surge of other bad ideas. Consider, for example, Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan.

Not exactly a national figure or frontrunner, Ryan seemed at pains to distance himself from the open socialism of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and the high-tax hysteria of Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Even so, Ryan told the crowd that, as president of the United States, he would create the new Cabinet position of “chief manufacturing officer.”

With such an official reporting directly to the president, Ryan said, America could dominate the global electric vehicle market. Though a first for the 2020 candidates, this was not a new concept.

A “state national economic plan for improving the conditions of the working people” sounds like something from Sanders or New York mayor Bill de Blasio. It’s actually from the Soviet Constitution of 1936, also known as the Stalin Constitution, but conditions for the workers in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics showed little if any improvement. 

Nobel laureate F.A. Hayek broke down the reason in “The Road to Serfdom” way back in 1944. No economic planner or  group of economic planners, however enlightened, can possibly have the knowledge to plan a national economy for the greater benefit of all. So Ryan’s “chief manufacturing officer,” whatever his intentions, would wind up a bust on electric cars or anything else. 

The Detroit audience also fielded an idea from Julian Castro of Texas. The former Housing and Urban Development boss called for a “Marshall Plan” for Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Some younger viewers might have missed the reference. It was the European Recovery Program under U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, who served as secretary of state under President Harry Truman. The nations devastated from World War II, some on the brink of famine, received nearly $13 billion in aid under the Marshall Plan.

Contrary to Castro’s opinion, there is no parallel with Central America, which is not on the verge of famine or in ruins from four years of warfare. In the 2017 U.S. budget alone, there was $413 million in aid for El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Instead of more money from the United States, those countries need to clean up corruption, open their economies to entrepreneurship, and strengthen property rights. That will never happen as long as presidential candidates call for the United States to solve other nations’ problems while neglecting their own. 

For his part, former Maryland Rep. John Delaney was  troubled by the prospect of taking existing health care away from workers. “Social Security didn’t make pensions illegal,” Delaney recalled, saying that was “the equivalent of what Warren and Sanders are proposing.” Delaney wants both universal care and individual choice, but the former Maryland congressman failed to explain how that might work.

As it happens, the Stalin Constitution offers “free medical service.” So a “single payer” system, a euphemism for government monopoly health care, is not a new concept. The 1936 Soviet constitution also promises a “system of state stipends” for students. So “free college” is not a new idea either, and nothing offered by government can possibly be free. 

Delaney seems to understand that concept and in the Detroit debate he slammed “impossible promises and fairytale economics.” That may not make him the frontrunner, but recognition of economic reality deserves some kind of prize.

Lloyd Billingsley is a policy fellow at the nonprofit Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.