Steamboat Springs In the red corner was Dan Mitchell, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute and a tax reform advocate. In the blue corner was William Black, a professor of law and economics at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. They came to the stage with “Eye of the Tiger” pumping through the sound system, took their places and came out ... reasonable, cordial even.
With hints that they’d done this dance before, Mitchell and Black were at The Steamboat Institute’s Freedom Conference to debate economic policy.
But after the debate time had been switched from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. — and wasn’t under way until close to 4:45 p.m. — it was the crowd that was getting rowdy with boos and murmurs of dissension directed toward Black.
Black is among faculty members at UMKC who focus on an economic approach known as modern monetary theory that is based on the work of John Maynard Keynes, among others. He also writes for the group's blog, New Economic Perspectives, and is well known for his work on financial regulation and the book “The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One" about the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s.
His Friday debate with Mitchell centered on a theory and a worldview: Keynesian economics and the proper role of government.
Mitchell is squarely opposite of Black in both those respects. He is an advocate for supply-side tax policy and, as a Cato fellow, pushes for reducing the size and role of government. His blog is called International Liberty.
This divide played out in the topics put forth by moderator and Steamboat Today columnist Rob Douglas: the budget plan of Republican vice presidential candidate and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, rising health care costs, eurozone austerity measures and government assistance to the needy.
Mitchell said the Ryan budget was only the first step toward fiscal sobriety, which he said had run afoul during the terms of Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama. However, he noted that cutting the deficit isn’t his main concern. “I worry about the size of government,” Mitchell said.
Black took exception with the way Ryan’s plan cut health care costs, which both agreed were out of control. Black saw the plan, which moves Medicaid to block grants tagged to the growth of gross domestic product plus 1 percent, as a cynical way to shift costs to the consumer without tackling overall health care spending.
Mitchell saw the plan as a reduction of the federal government's role and the ability of market forces to drive down costs by linking consumers more closely to the product of health services.
Black made the provocation of mentioning the positives of government and Europe in the same response. His comment about Europe controlling health care costs led to a divide about the nature and effectiveness of austerity in the eurozone.
The conversation then veered toward how welfare programs are run and their level of funding. In advocating for government’s ability to do positive things, Black said that when the government spends money, it creates private sector income, such as money for highway repairs being paid to firms like Ryan’s family road construction company, Ryan Inc. Central.
“No it doesn’t!” came the response from the back of the room.
The fourth annual Freedom Conference continues Saturday with panels on subjects including "Ensuring Election Integrity: The Need for Voter ID," “How Washington Clobbers the Family Budget — Whether You Pay Taxes or Not!” and “Alternatives to Government Programs.” It ends with a closing keynote from noted conservative columnist Michelle Malkin. The conference is sold out.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com