Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: Sovereignty, Self-reliance and Diversification


March 14, 2019

Cambodia’s Foreign Policy: Sovereignty, Self-reliance and Diversification

By Chheang Vannarith

https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50586127/cambodias-foreign-policy-sovereignty-self-reliance-and-diversification/

The annual conference at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation last week highlighted three key words in the formulation of Cambodia’s foreign policy in the new era: sovereignty, self-reliance, and diversification.Image result for Cambodia

Sovereignty has been regarded as the core principle and interest of foreign policy, especially amidst mounting diplomatic and economic pressures from the European Union.

Sovereignty has been regarded as the core principle and interest of foreign policy, especially amidst mounting diplomatic and economic pressures from the European Union. Prime Minister Hun Sen has continually stressed that Cambodia will never compromise or surrender sovereignty for foreign assistance. Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has also emphasised that sovereignty is a matter of survival for Cambodia.

The concept of sovereignty is increasingly critical to the formulation of Cambodia’s foreign policy strategy and approach. Sovereignty is generally understood in the Cambodian context as the absolute, legitimate right exercised by an independent state over its territory and people, without external coercion or interference. Notably, resistance against foreign intervention is unprecedentedly high since the establishment of the Second Kingdom of Cambodia in 1993.

Protecting sovereignty is becoming more challenging for small states like Cambodia. Major powers are not keen to see small states stay neutral as they are willing to force small states to take sides if necessary. In the 1960s, Cambodia was forced to take sides, against its own will and interest.

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Now Cambodia has ASEAN to help protect its sovereignty. However, the future ability of ASEAN to provide continued protection of sovereignty to its members is uncertain due to increasing pressure from major powers. ASEAN centrality is at greater risk in the context of heightening geopolitical rivalry between major powers.

Self-reliance and diversification are the two key strategies to protect the Kingdom’s sovereignty. Reducing dependence on foreign aid could help build economic independence and national resilience. And leadership does matter in promoting self-reliance.

Dependency syndrome on external support has trapped Cambodia for many centuries due to internal weaknesses and a lack of national reconciliation and unity. Beginning after the collapse of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, Khmer rulers of the past sought support from foreign countries to protect or gain power. Since the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991, Cambodia has heavily relied on foreign donors for socio-economic development. In the 1990s, some even called Cambodia an “NGO-driven economy”.

Now it is necessary for Cambodia to recalibrate its political doctrine based on the concept of self-reliance, which is very much influenced by the Buddhist philosophy of life. Cambodia should not expect other countries to protect its interests and sovereignty; it needs to rely on itself. Realistically, no country or person is more invested in the interests of Cambodia than Cambodians themselves. Cambodia will be unable to maintain its sovereignty unless it is economically independent and resilient.

Diversification is another key term being used by Cambodian policy makers and analysts alike. There are three layers of diversification at the international, national, and local levels. Internationally, Cambodia needs to build more economic and strategic partnerships, expand export markets, and make new friends. The leadership of the Ministry of Commerce has the responsibility to diversify export markets through bilateral and multilateral trade deals. Remarkably, Cambodia does not have any bilateral free trade agreement with any country yet.

Diversification is another key term being used by Cambodian policy makers and analysts alike. There are three layers of diversification at the international, national, and local levels. Internationally, Cambodia needs to value add,build more economic and strategic partnerships, expand export markets, and make new friends. The leadership of the Ministry of Commerce has the responsibility to diversify export markets through bilateral and multilateral trade deals. Remarkably, Cambodia does not have any bilateral free trade agreement with any country.

Domestic economic success defines Cambodia’s role and image abroad. The success of Cambodia’s foreign policy largely depends on institutional reforms at home. There is a need to build a new generation of career diplomats who are capable of promoting Cambodia’s political, economic and cultural relations with other countries. Currently, the government gives priority to economic and cultural diplomacy.

At the national level, Cambodia has implemented institutional reforms to diversify its sources of growth and increase its productivity. Moving from labour-intensive industries to skill-driven industries or a knowledge-based economy is a must. Cambodia is running out of time to catch up with other regional economies, especially in the context of the fast-evolving Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Early this year, a working group on digital economy was formed to conduct studies and propose policy guidelines and action plans to direct Cambodia’s future economy. Cambodia could leapfrog its economic structure if it has the right leadership and policy. It is high time for Cambodia to undergo “institutional surgery” to cut off bad, infectious parts of the governance body.

At the local level, Cambodia needs to do much more to diversify its sources of funding and development partners. Fiscal decentralisation is critical to rural development and poverty reduction. Leadership and institutional capacity building for local governments is also required. Merit-based appointment of local bureaucrats must be encouraged, at the provincial, district, and commune levels.

Chheang Vannarith is President of Asian Vision Institute (AVI), based in Phnom Penh

 

 

Diversity can rescue democracy–How will America handle it?


March 8, 2019

Diversity can rescue democracy–How will America handle it?

by Dr.Fareed Zakaria

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“In their book “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt make the case that diversity helps forge the culture of compromise and tolerance that is crucial to democracy’s success. They argue, for example, that the Republican Party has become so rigid, intolerant and abusive of this norm in part because it has become an ethnically and racially homogeneous party.“—Fareed Zakaria

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report, which is expected to be delivered to the Attorney- General Barr soon, will end up being a great test of American democracy. How will we handle it? In a nakedly partisan fashion, or as a way to bolster our constitutional system?

Image result for Special counsel Robert S. Mueller

It has been much noted that we are now in an era of illiberal democracy. Popularly elected governments and leaders — in countries as varied as Venezuela, Poland, Hungary, Turkey and the Philippines — are undermining independent institutions, violating important norms and accumulating unbridled power. In most of these nations, checks and balances have buckled as institutions that protect rights have been weakened, political parties have been craven, courts have been compliant, and the press has been subdued.

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/3/7/how-diversity-can-rescue-democracy

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In the United States, the story is mixed. The political system has functioned poorly, checking President Trump’s excesses only along partisan lines. This is largely because the Republican Party has capitulated to Trump, even when party leaders have believed that he was undercutting democracy itself. Senators who had spent a lifetime railing against the executive branch’s power grabs have meekly endorsed Trump’s phony national emergency. They have quietly accepted that Congress’s central power, to spend money, can be subverted at will by the White House.

On the other hand, some American institutions have pushed back. The judiciary has maintained its independence. The various branches of investigative authority — the FBI and other organs of the Justice Department — have demonstrated that they serve the country and Constitution above the current occupant of the White House. The press has, by and large, been able to withstand the extraordinary pressure of a president who almost daily attacks and threatens its freedom and independence.

But the greatest check on Trump has surely been the public itself, placing some limits on the president’s behavior by voting in the midterms and expressing itself through opinion polls and protests. And, ultimately, this has to be the hope for the health and strength of any democracy — that in the words often attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “You can’t fool all the people all of the time.”

My faith in people power has been strengthened in watching events 7,000 miles away in India. There, too, a democratically elected leader, Narendra Modi, has accumulated power in ways that were at times authoritarian. In this case, the pressure he exerted on the bureaucracy and judiciary often worked. So did his intimidation of the press, which, while once fiery and free, has essentially become a handmaiden of the ruling party. Business executives were coerced into supporting Modi’s party, the BJP, and loading it up with cash.

And yet, the BJP recently received a drubbing at the ballot box. Despite commanding advantages with media coverage, money and local officials, India’s dominant party lost several key state elections a few months ago. Why? In a word, diversity.

In a new book on his quarter-century of observing Indian politics, Ruchir Sharma notes that the dominant reality of Indian politics is its diversity. India is composed of dozens of different linguistic communities, ethnic groups, castes, tribes and classes. And these identities are meaningful, shaping people’s perspectives on everything from daily life to political preferences. Sharma cites the head of a large consumer products company, who explained that his company divides India into 14 sub-regions because of its dizzying diversity — compared with the 20 countries of the Middle East, which get divided by the company into just four groups.

This diversity has proved to be India’s greatest strength as a democracy, ensuring that no one party gets too big for its boots. For 40 years, the single best prediction in Indian elections has been that the incumbent will be tossed out. In the upcoming national election, Modi has immense advantages: money, a large parliamentary majority, a fawning media and a slew of expansive populist spending programs to buy people’s votes. Even then, recent polls indicated his coalition would fall short of a majority.

Things have changed because of India’s military tit-for-tat with Pakistan, which Modi has used to push an aggressively nationalist line. With no evidence, he has labeled all opposition parties as being anti-national and pro-Pakistan. This strategy might work, but still, he will likely return to office with a reduced majority.

Image result for book “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt

In their book “How Democracies Die,” Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt make the case that diversity helps forge the culture of compromise and tolerance that is crucial to democracy’s success. They argue, for example, that the Republican Party has become so rigid, intolerant and abusive of this norm in part because it has become an ethnically and racially homogeneous party.

Most Western countries are going to become more diverse. That is simply demographic reality. India demonstrates how that diversity — if embraced and celebrated — could actually help rescue and strengthen democracy.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Brexit Is Hell


March 7,2019

Brexit Is Hell

Over time, public conceptions of hell have migrated from the realm of religious belief to that of literature and political aphorism. And nowhere is the idea of eternal damnation as punishment for one’s own choices more appropriate than in the case of the United Kingdom as it hurdles toward the Brexit abyss.

 

PRINCETON – European Council President Donald Tusk recently sparked controversy by saying there is a “special place in hell” for those who advocated Brexit “without a plan.” To angry Brexiteers, the statement epitomizes the unfeeling, moralistic attitude of the European Union technocracy in Brussels. British Prime Minister Theresa May duly issued a statement rebuking Tusk for his remark.

But May’s response scarcely matters. She has already extended her deadline for holding a “meaningful vote” on an EU-exit deal, effectively confirming that she will remain bereft of a plan until the final moments. At this rate, the delays and extensions of Brexit deadlines might well continue indefinitely.

Tusk’s great offense was to offer a banal and universal truth. Whether you are in London, Washington, DC, or anywhere else, it is never advisable to enter into a negotiation without clear objectives and a sense of how the other side will respond. Hence, throughout history, statesmen such as Otto von Bismarck have regarded diplomacy as a chess game. As Bismarck well knew, it is not enough just to move pieces around; one must also anticipate what will come next.

As for the theological language in Tusk’s indictment, one could argue that it is perfectly appropriate for politicians in a largely secularized Europe to speak of hell. After all, even many Christian clergy have moved beyond belief in an afterlife of perpetual damnation. And the Anglican Church abandoned the idea of purgatory back in the sixteenth century, with the .

In Christopher Marlowe’s classic play Doctor Faustus (1592), the title character asks Mephistopheles what a demon is doing in his study instead of in hell. “Why, this is hell,” replies Mephistopheles, “nor am I out of it.” Equally all-encompassing was the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre’s own conception: “Hell is other people.”

What hell implies in a modern political context is open to debate, at least until we have a twenty-first-century Dante to offer a comprehensive eschatology and a new map to the Inferno. In view of former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’ defense of Hillary Clinton’s flawed 2016 presidential bid, for example, hell is the final destination for “women who don’t help each other.” Presumably, Albright did not mean that the 42% of women voters who backed Trump have a fiery future in store for them.

Meanwhile, some Italian journalists have alleged, erroneously, that even Pope Francis has dispensed with the notion of hell. In reality, he has put hell at the center of his vision of humanity. Francis reminds us that hell originally derived from a rebellious angel’s arrogance, or superbia. A vice deeply embedded in the human psyche, arrogance is the act of telling God, “You take care of yourself because I’ll take care of myself,” Francis explained in 2015. Accordingly, “They don’t send you to hell, you go there because you choose to be there.”

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Brexit represents precisely this course. If hell is thinking that you do not need others, and that you need only look out for yourself, then the Brexiteers are already there. Those who believe only in themselves see no need to negotiate, because they assume the other side will simply bend to their will.

But in international relations, the assumption that one can regulate everything by oneself creates a hell that others have to live in, too. Hell, in this sense, is what happens when people succumb to the lure of self-determination and “sovereignty,” creating a self-perpetuating cycle of strained relationships and mutually destructive unilateralism. This version of hell tends to last quite a long time indeed, because each side has its own selective memory and wants to punish the other.

While the assertion of sovereignty seems to conjure endless new possibilities, as it clearly has for the Brexiteers, it actually constrains one’s choices. Those who renounce treaties, for example, invite others to do the same, whereupon it becomes all the more difficult to forge any kind of agreement at all. And those who have convinced themselves that they can choose freely among endless unrealized opportunities tend to live in constant regret of what might have been. This is the trap laid by hubris.

Thus, like Tantalus forever grasping at the fruit that is just beyond his reach, the United Kingdom wants to pursue trade deals that its membership in the EU otherwise precludes. Left unsaid is what that would mean in practice. The UK could aim to maximize prosperity by pushing deregulation as far as possible. Yet to trade profitably with other countries or the EU, it would still have to meet their regulatory standards regarding safety, quality, and so forth. Moreover, outside the EU’s regulatory framework, Britain’s newfound freedom would also imply new responsibilities to introduce regulations protecting UK residents.

The real question, then, is whether escape is even possible. If May wanted to be bold, she could issue the following statement: “Brexit is a terrible mistake. The decision was reached after a campaign of lies and malign foreign influence, and it is obvious that its costs will far exceed its benefits. As such, my government has decided not to pursue it any further. Instead, we will commit to working with the EU to address British concerns and prepare for an unpredictable future.”

Such a statement is of course impossible, because May has already paid the ferryman through her previous choices. What awaits her and the UK is more punishment. First, the dismal reality on the ground will be exposed, and it will stand in shocking contrast to what might have been. Then, someone will have to be held responsible. But assigning blame is a punishment in itself. In Dante’s telling, the adulteress Francesca da Rimini spends the rest of eternity incessantly pinning the blame for her actions on everyone and everything but herself.

Brexit augurs a similar national fate. The debates in Westminster and Whitehall show no sign of ever ending, and it is becoming increasingly obvious why: Brexit is eternal damnation.

 

 

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn slams EU over EBA’s review


March 5, 2019

Cambodia –EU Relations

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn slams EU over EBA’s review

Ben Sokhean / Khmer Times

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn, speaking to Cambodia’s Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives and Consuls  General in an annual conference at ministry’s office in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. KT/ Chor Sokunthea

Foreign Minister Prak Sokhonn has lambasted  the European Union for applying a double standard with Cambodia over a review of Every Thing but arms preferential status, saying that they failed to act against Laos and Myanmar.

Speaking to dozens of Cambodia’s Ambassadors, Permanent Representatives and Consuls Generals in an annual conference at ministry office in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Mr Sokhonn said that the EU acted improperly against the Kingdom.

“I want to say double standards because they use this issue to pressure Cambodia. We can say that they behave improperly,” Mr Sokhonn said, referring to the EU’s move to review the Kingdom’s EBA access.

Image result for Cecilia Malmström

He said that he discussed with EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström about more than 800,000 workers and two million other people who received benefit from garment sector in Brussels in January.

“Ms Malmström raised about pluralism as she accused us of dissolving the CNRP, so she meant it is no longer pluralism in Cambodia.”

Mr Sokhonn said that the EU failed to act against Laos and Myanmar.

“Laos has the EBA like us. If we talk about pluralism, is Laos a pluralism country? Why don’t you pressure Laos? Why do you still keep the EBA for Laos?”, Mr Sokhonn said, noting that bilateral free trade agreement between the EU and Vietnam has still existed even though Vietnam is a one-party system.

“They close their eyes not to see the government’s achievement. They want to see a perfect democracy,” he said. “Myanmar is also threatened to be sanctioned by the EU but so far they have not taken any action against that country.”

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“Why don’t they do something against Laos and Myanmar,” Mr Sokhonn inquired.

Time for bolder steps from ASEAN


March 4, 2019

Time for bolder steps from ASEAN

By : Ponciano Intal Jr, ERIA

ttps://www.eastasiaforum.org.Image result for ASEAN

ASEAN is now facing circumstances that are fundamentally different from anything it has dealt with before. They require a much more proactive approach on international and regional integration strategies. ASEAN is unlikely to maintain its centrality unless its leaders are prepared to take bold steps, beyond ‘business as usual’.

 

ASEAN has come a long way from its beginnings in 1967. It transformed an area of turmoil, antagonism and violence into a zone of cooperative peace and prosperity, and disparate economic backwaters into an increasingly integrated global growth powerhouse. A region that was a Cold War pawn is now central to the economic and political-security architecture of the Asia Pacific, and Southeast Asian peoples, once largely cut off from one another, are becoming a strong socio-cultural community.

A major reason for this remarkable transformation is that ASEAN leaders collectively stepped forward when faced with tremendous challenges. ASEAN crisis-points in the past are frequently forgotten when assessment is being made of its capacity to deal with new challenges. For example, leaders replaced Preferential Tariff Arrangements with the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1992 when faced with potential ’fortresses’ in the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement. AFTA is still driving regional integration and the ASEAN Community, despite the 1997 financial crisis and the shift in investment flows out of ASEAN and into surging China.

But the new challenges require an even bolder response.

The realignment of great power relations in the Asia Pacific is causing great geopolitical uncertainty. The digital and fourth industrial revolution is expected to accelerate, generating significant regional unease about its impact on lower end employment. On the other hand, there is transformative potential for greater productivity in firms and industries, better growth opportunities for small and medium enterprises, and enhanced resiliency and sustainability across the ASEAN economies.

The surge in protectionism and anti-globalisation in much of the developed world underlines the priority of pursuing inclusive growth, economic openness and regional integration in ASEAN and the wider region through the proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The rules-based multilateral trade regime and economic order is vital to ASEAN’s prosperity, but is under threat. The vulnerability of many ASEAN countries to climate change also demands sustainable and resilient development.

The next two decades will see history’s largest increase of middle and upper-middle classes in the India–ASEAN–China corridor, dubbed the ’golden arc of opportunity’. ASEAN needs to be well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity. With far less technological capability and skilled manpower than China or India, ASEAN has to improve markedly its technological prowess, human capital, institutions and infrastructure.

So what can ASEAN leaders do to overcome the immense challenges the region faces?

Nimble and proactive diplomacy that asserts ASEAN centrality and harnesses the collective leadership of middle powers can do much for peace, security and prosperity in the wider region. Bringing together middle powers to raise their concerns will help constrain China–US competition and confrontation. ASEAN can also provide a strong and unified voice to ensure an inclusive regional architecture emerges.

Asian collective leadership is now essential to maintaining and strengthening multilateral rules and trading systems that ASEAN and the wider region rely on for economic prosperity and political security. Successfully concluding RCEP is just the start. But it will be important to ASEAN’s global credibility and voice in brokering a way forward with reform of the multilateral trade regime.

The biggest threat to ASEAN’s open and inclusive development is that to the rules-based multilateral trading system and international economic order. This system is a core interest of ASEAN and other countries in this region. The trade war has highlighted deficiencies in the World Trade Organization and international trading system that need to be addressed. ASEAN and Indonesia through their prominent participation in the G20 process have a common and urgent interest with like-minded partners in framing Asia’s proactive response to this challenge.

A more vigorous and active regional and international diplomacy will only be successfully built on stronger ASEAN foundations. Leaders will need to implement the ASEAN Economic Community Blueprint and other measures that realise an integrated, connected and seamless ASEAN single market and production base. This would help ASEAN compete with China and India’s more liberal trade and investment environments and allow deeper integration across the region.It will also help ASEAN stand firm in its international diplomacy.

Deeper ASEAN integration means making fully operational national single windows, the ASEAN Single Window, national trade repositories, the ASEAN Trade Repository, the ASEAN Customs Transit System, and ASEAN self-certification schemes.

It also means ensuring transparent and streamlined non-tariff measures and a more concerted effort to strengthen regional and national standards and conformance quality infrastructure and systems. Leaders should also develop a strong and liberalised services sector and an open investment regime with freer flow of data and payments, institutionalise ASEAN’s Good Regulatory Practice, and implement a quality Regulatory Management System in each ASEAN country. There also needs to be greater commitment to skills mobility and development within the region, including greater focus on lifelong learning and skills training.

It is also essential to prepare for, adapt to and harness the digital and fourth industrial revolution. This requires creating stronger institutions and policies, with many already embedded in the ASEAN Community Blueprint. Embracing the digital revolution and adapting to new technologies under Industry 4.0 would drive ASEAN forward in upgrading its economies, enhance resilience and sustainability, empower its people, strengthen people engagement and connectivity, improving governance, and strengthen ASEAN’s innovation ecosystem.

Put together, these measures will revitalise ASEAN into a vibrant and influential grouping that is set for success in the decades to come.

Ponciano Intal Jr is a Senior Economist at the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia.

 

 

 

 

The Left is bubbling with ideas. They’re just the wrong ones.


February 23, 2019

The Left is bubbling with ideas. They’re just the wrong ones.

By Dr. Fareed Zakaria

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/2/21/the-left-is-bubbling-with-ideas-theyre-just-the-wrong-ones

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IT is refreshing to see the Democratic Party bubbling with new ideas. But this new thinking seems starkly different from the party’s reform efforts of the past three decades. The wonky proposals of the Clinton-Obama era were pragmatic and incremental, and they mixed market incentives with government action. Today, we have big, stirring ideas — and that could be the problem.

In their zeal to match the sweeping rhetoric of right-wing populism, Democrats are spinning out dramatic proposals in which facts are sometimes misrepresented, the numbers occasionally don’t add up, and emotional appeal tends to trump actual policy analysis.

Image result for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.)

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) was confronted recently by Anderson Cooper on CBS’s “60 Minutes” about an egregious misstatement concerning Pentagon spending, she responded, “I think that there’s a lot of people more concerned about being precisely, factually, and semantically correct than about being morally right.”

Perhaps this casual attitude toward facts explains the way that she and many others on the left have misrepresented the deal that New York offered Amazon to bring a new headquarters there. She claimed New York was going to give away $3 billion to Amazon that could have been used to pay for schoolteachers and subways. But as Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) explained, “This was a deal that was going to bring $27 billion in revenue to the state and city for things like public education, mass transit, affordable housing. And that $3 billion that [Amazon would receive in] incentives was only after we were getting the jobs and getting the revenue.” Moreover, $2.5 billion of those incentives were not specially crafted for Amazon, but rather were preexisting tax credits that it would have qualified for. In return, Amazon would have directly created at least 25,000 high-quality jobs, upgraded infrastructure in Long Island City and offered new educational opportunities. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos also owns The Post.)

The merits of any such incentive programs can be debated but the idea that, if New York unilaterally disarms, other cities and states will stop offering their own incentives is beyond naive. This was a chance for New York to gain leadership in the technology industry, further diversify its economy away from real estate and finance, and add new dynamism to the sometimes-forgotten borough of Queens. For all those who worried about Amazon crowding out low-income housing, a community activist smartly predicted to me what will happen to that part of Long Island City. Come the next recession, he explained, real estate developers will snap up the land, turn it into luxury condos, and take a 25-year tax break in return for reserving a smattering of apartments for the “middle class” (meaning people earning $125,000). But the thrill of denouncing “the world’s richest man” is apparently worth all this wreckage.

Or consider the race by prominent Democrats to embrace Medicare-for-all. A variety of expert studies have estimated the total increased government spending for such a program at between $2.5 trillion and $3 trillion a year. Few of the many proposals being floated would likely raise anything close to that revenue. The Medicare-for-all plan by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has zero out-of-pocket costs for patients, which would make it even more generous than plans in Europe and Canada. And if a herculean effort were made to raise revenue for Medicare-for-all, there would be few easy avenues left to fund any of the other ambitious proposals on the new Democratic wish list.

Universal health care is an important moral and political goal. But the U.S. system is insanely complex, and getting from here to single-payer would probably be so disruptive and expensive that it’s not going to happen. There is a path to universal coverage that is simpler: Switzerland has one of the best health-care systems in the world, and it’s essentially Obamacare with a real mandate. No one on the left is talking about such a model, likely because it feels too much like those incremental policies of the past.

Or consider the tax proposals being tossed around on the left, including a wealth tax championed by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). I understand the appeal of tapping into those vast accumulations of billionaire loot. But there is a reason nine of the 12 European countries that instituted similar taxes have repealed them in the last 25 years. They massively distort economic activity, often incentivizing people to hide assets, devalue them and create dummy corporations. Faced with a wealth tax, most rich people would likely value and transfer assets the questionable way that Fred Trump did in passing his fortune on to his children.

There are smarter, better ways to address inequality — raise the capital gains tax to the same level as income taxes; increase the estate tax; and get rid of the massive loopholes that make the U.S. tax code one of the most complex and corrupt in the world. But again, this is less stirring stuff than burning the billionaires.

Ocasio-Cortez’s comments on “60 Minutes” reminded me of a July 2016 exchange between former House speaker Newt Gingrich and CNN’s Alisyn Camerota. Camerota explained that, contrary to Gingrich’s insistence, FBI data showed that violent crime in the United States was way down. Gingrich responded that it doesn’t “feel” that way to people. “As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel, and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians,” he said.We already have one major party that now routinely twists facts, disregards evidence, ignores serious policy analysis and makes stuff up to appeal to people’s emotions and prejudices. If the Democrats start moving along this path as well, American politics will truly descend into a new dark age.

 

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

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