It’s Nov. 7, 2012, a year of campaigning has just come to a close, and our next president has just been elected. As such, everyone is abuzz with celebrations, frustrations and their predictions for the next four years. Although I can’t really speak to the former, it’s safe to say that, with regards to the latter, we more or less know what to expect.
Before moving forward and getting into predictions for the next four years, though, it might be useful to consider how the president-elect made it to the White House in the first place. He certainly wouldn’t have been able to do it without the staunch commitment to a union of government and big business—in the form of his support for initiatives like the Troubled Asset Relief Program, a substantial federal role in the Chrysler and GM auto crises and a health care bill that enlarges the market share of major insurance firms and pharmaceutical companies—that earned him millions of dollars in campaign contributions from large corporations and the securities and investment industry. His willingness to serve special interests in these areas won him the sort of quid pro quo campaign financing machine that it takes to carry a presidential election these days.
As for the next four years, though, what should we expect from the president-elect? Well, if we are to take his record as any indication, then it appears fairly likely that he will continue the program of gradual reduction of civil liberties that has been going on at least since the Bush years. In fact, his support for the basic premise of the TSA—which is probably the hallmark of that trend—is enough alone to suggest that this may be the case. The fact that he has supported the renewal of both the Patriot Act and the National Defense Authorization Act, which dramatically expand the power of authorities and allow the state to indefinitely detain and even execute citizens of the United States without trial, only serves to strengthen this prediction. As for his foreign policy, he is a strong supporter of the economic sanctions responsible for the deaths of innocent Iranian civilians, and unsurprisingly favors continual American military intervention in the Middle East. Much of his interventionist leaning rests on the presumption that he does not need congressional approval to go to war, and thus it seems high likely that he will attempt to preside over the world as a continual de facto proponent of the Bush Doctrine.
If the theme for the next four years is “more of the same,”—and it seems like it is—then it would be useful to note that the president-elect is also relatively unlikely to reverse course in relation to the nation’s economic affairs. Although he has supported some minor alterations in the tax code, he exhibits an unshakeable faith in the basic tenets of progressive taxation, the income tax and the IRS in general. As an outspoken and unquestioning supporter of the Federal Reserve system, he opposes a full audit of the Fed and seems committed to continuing its program of currency and interest rate manipulation. On top of all of this, the president-elect has a track record of big spending while in office, and there is no reason to believe that he will do anything to curb it now. He will likely make use of all these tools—despite their persistent failures to bring about true recovery—over the course of the next four years.
He will also continue to advance the sort of government intervention in the medical industry that has attributed to gross increases in cost and deficiencies in care since the 1960s. The president-elect is a firm believer in the efficacy of an insurance-based approach to medical care, enough so that he previously authored legislation penalizing non-purchasers for their decisions to greedily withhold their money from powerful and politically connected insurance companies. He has based a whole approach to rising medical costs around reinforcing the historical accident that is employer-based health insurance. He seems, much like the Congress itself, to have no substantive understanding of either economics or medical care, which leaves him ill-suited to navigate the intersection of the two. His efforts to ban rescissions and exclusions on the basis of preexisting conditions—genuine and well-intentioned though they may, at best, be—so aggressively misdiagnose the problem that it is difficult to take the rest of his proposal seriously. And, although he does have plans to alter Medicare and Social Security in one way or another, he can best be described as thoroughly committed to the specific vision of entrenched bureaucracy that programs like these represent.
In truth, it seems like there is only one thing about the president-elect of which I am unsure, and that is his name. You see, as the author of a column that runs on Wednesdays, I am required to turn in my work by midday on Tuesdays, and this column was no exception. In another election, this might have presented me with a problem. The relative lack of meaningful differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, however, made it a little bit less of a concern.
Chris Bassil, Trinity ’12, is currently working for Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Mass. His column runs every Wednesday. You can follow Chris on Twitter @HamsterdamEcon.