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In Politics, the Summer of Reruns

Must every good policy idea this year be a rehash of an old one? Not at all, and here's a few to get the debate going.

"Hegel writes somewhere," wrote Karl Marx (though the original reference has never been found), that history generally happens twice, first as tragedy and then again as farce. Marx first offered up this by-now chestnut in an essay titled The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte and his subject was, of course, familial successions.

Karl would have been right at home hereabouts. Having bested


("don't use my initials")



George W. Bush

has practically won the Republican nomination.

Albert Gore Jr.

is of course still favored on the Democratic side.

Hillary Clinton

is off to the races in New York. And

Larry Summers

, nephew of two Nobel Prize winners in economics (




), runs the world from the

Treasury Department


Faint echoes equally govern our policy discussions. The Republican Congress has recycled

Ronald Reagan's

tax cuts, both in income taxes and that perennial favorite, relief for capital gains. They even propose to repeal the estate tax -- now there's a policy to enshrine the dynastic principle. Luckily Clinton will veto what the Congress may pass.

Meanwhile on the cultural front, the summer brings us

Woodstock '99

, made-for-TV and enlivened only, at the end, by a few acts of arson. Not to mention the real sadness of that airplane crash off Martha's Vineyard, whose aftermath was, it must be said, dignified by the family's refusal to offer up echos of the great funeral 36 years before.

Now, one should not oppose family successions per se.

John Stuart Mill

was a greater economist than his father James.

John Maynard Keynes

surpassed John Neville.

John Quincy Adams

was a better man than

John No-Quincy

. And


was a greater president than


. Every case, if you please, on its merits.

Still, at this moment in our history couldn't we use and shouldn't we prefer an original?

John McCain

, a conservative of courage and judgment, is clearly superior to Bush.

Bill Bradley

, self-made in several fields, is with equal clarity better than Gore. Both are smaller republicans in what is, after all, a republic, not a princely state. Not to mention their ability to speak for us with distinction on those occasions -- state funerals and high diplomacy come to mind - when the country needs a well-spoken, self-assured voice.

On the policy front, it is true that Clinton's recycling of gun control, health care, and "saving

Social Security

" is playing havoc with the hapless, leaderless, clueless Republican Party. No doubt he plans to keep up these reruns through the next election, so as to leave office with a full measure of the revenge ("political rehabilitation in my own lifetime" as

Boris Yeltsin

once put it) he is seeking. Neither Gore nor Bradley is likely to upset this game. Nor should they.

But then what? Shouldn't someone be thinking about what to do if the voters really do give the Republican Congress the boot next year? In that case, a bit of genuinely progressive legislation might be a refreshing change. And since one has to start somewhere, let me offer a few proposals.


, reform the


. Kick the banker-dominated, rate-raising regional bank presidents off the

Open Market Committee

. Let's have some serious talk about lowering interest rates. Why do we need a real interest rate of 4%?


, raise the minimum wage and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Worried about rising employment costs? Fine: cut the payroll tax rate. And raise the cap, so that higher incomes are fully covered.


: Worried about Social Security? Don't be. The business of building a "surplus" for the trust fund is a shabby fraud; working people have been overpaying for Social Security for decades. If you want to abolish the social security financing problem, once and for all, just abolish the damn trust fund and pay for social security the way we pay for defense: Out of general revenues, wherever they come from.


, as to health care. How about simply putting all children under the age of, say, six, onto


? It works great for old people. Why not the young?


, cut and reshape the military budget. Kosovo showed the limits, not the capabilities, of air power; now the F-22 "Raptor" is showing the inanity of our design and procurement methods. We should seriously consider changing our whole military structure, perhaps along lines advocated -- with great originality -- by

Gary Hart

in his recent book,

The Minuteman,

which calls for stronger reserves and far fewer active forces.

These may not be the most original ideas -- hey, I'm a retread myself, a throwback to the economics of


and the politics of

George McGovern

. But at least they're a bit off of today's tediously beaten track.

James K. Galbraith

, who writes his own tag lines, is the son of ... oh, never mind.

James K. Galbraith is author of Created Unequal: The Crisis in American Pay (Free Press, 1998) and director of the University of Texas

Inequality Project. A professor at the University of Texas at Austin and senior scholar at the Levy Economics Institute, he worked for many years on the staff of the House Banking Committee, where he conducted oversight of the Federal Reserve. He welcomes your feedback at