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Vox: How Congress Learned To Stop Worrying and Start Handing Out Cash

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“The Biden administration and its allies in Congress are pushing for a new round of $1,400 checks to all but the richest Americans. If you’ve been following the ins and outs of Covid-19 relief politics in recent weeks, this isn’t surprising news.

But consider what a dramatic transformation of American politics this represents. The first $1,200 checks that were sent out as part of a massive relief package in early 2020 were genuinely unprecedented in American history. The US has issued refunds for taxes paid in the past, and those refunds sometimes looked a bit like unconditional checks, as in 2001 …

Whatever the final figure ends up being, it’s worth stepping back to appreciate just how much the politics of giving people money has shifted in the past year. Sending cash is hugely popular and has become the subject of mass public attention in a way that’s rare for legislative proposals. In late December, Google search interest in the $2,000 checks exceeded interest in the Kardashians or Taylor Swift.

Cash’s bipartisan popularity, and its ability to muster large-scale public interest and support, suggests that the future might involve a lot more policies like checks — even when the pandemic has passed. Covid-19, in other words, may have done what years of basic income advocacy could not do on its own: convinced our political class that handing out cash is a good, popular, economically effective policy. …

If Republicans arrive at check politics as a replacement for tax cut politics, it will be good for their political prospects — but also incredibly good for the country. What made tax cuts politics somewhat deceitful was the idea that to help the middle class, you needed to help the rich even more. …

The net effect of the 2020 stimulus debate may be to transform the Republican Santa Claus — a huge elitist throwing big stacks of bills at the rich plus a little bit for the plebes to keep them at bay — into an egalitarian handing out checks to the bottom half of the income ladder.

That would be a huge win. Republicans have always run on returning your tax dollars to you; this would simply be settling on a much more equal way of doing so. …”

The politics of wealth redistribution is rapidly solidifying the populist Center. True Conservatism still holds institutional power, but is steadily retreating inside the Republican Party due to demographic change. The old gang has grown radically out of touch with their own working class voters.

I can see the old 1930s style populism coming back: anti-oligarchy, anti-elite, pro-wealth redistribution, socially conservative, isolationism, mixed up with nationalism


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