[T]he challenge in front of conservatives is clear: How do we continue to increase the market orientation of the American economy while helping more Americans to participate in it more equally?
Here are two ideas among many.
First, improve K-12 schools.
That's it!?! That's the great Jim Manzi Plan for restoring the middle class!?! The same idea politicians have been promising for the last 25 years!?! Isn't this like the plan for earning $1M without paying taxes: "Step one: get $1M"?
To be fair, Manzi's prescriptions -- choice and accountability -- are good ones. But conservatives and Republicans have groped around -- unsuccessfully, and for some time -- for the political leverage to actually implement these kind of reforms, and I can't help thinking that their effect will be marginal.
Better yet would be to admit that the kind of college preparatory academic work to which our high schools have defaulted have essentially negative utility for those students at the bottom half of the cognitive bell curve. These students should be learning specific job skills appropriate to the kinds of work for which their abilities suit them.
But the flip side of this problem is that improving (or rather, redirecting) education will accomplish nothing if there are no jobs to which they can apply this education. The inescapable reality is that the only way to improve the economic standing of the bottom half of our people is to re-invigorate the industries in which they are likely to be productive. And this, in turn, will require making changes to the legal and regulatory environment for such industries of exactly the kind that the SWPL crowd is likely to oppose.
To give credit where it is due, Manzi's second recommendation -- using immigration policy to improve our nation's human capital -- is much better, and when Congress returns to immigration reform, as it most surely will, Republicans will have an opportunity to offer amendments that highlight the Democrats' refusal to do this. I can think of at least two:
-- Require that guest workers or their employers post a bond indemnifying the public fisc against their consumption of public services (healthcare, education, law enforcement) over and above what they will pay in taxes.
-- Require that all immigrants possess the human capital, and earning power, to pay more into the treasury than they and their families extract in benefits.
Of course, these amendments undermine reform's unstated purpose: to lower the nation's human capital through mass unskilled immigration. But they will give Republicans a language for opposing immigration beyond mere nationalism.
UPDATE: Jim Manzi comments (OMG, Jim Manzi commented on my no-account little blog! I swoon!):
Thanks for reading my post closely. I agree that (1) the education thing is easier said than done ([p]olitically), and (2) it's impact would be significant, but not decisive. Nonetheless, I think it is a big thing worth doing.
As I indicated, I was giving a couple of ideas, not a comprehensive plan for renewing America.