Daniel J. Mitchell

I’m almost too depressed to write anything today. The Georgia Bulldogs came within five yards on the final play of the game of winning college football’s national championship (the game against Notre Dame being a mere formality for the winner of the Southeastern Conference), but fell 32-28 to the Alabama Crimson Tide.

But if the Continental Army could survive a bitter winter at Valley Forge, then surely I can summon the intestinal fortitude to write a blog post while sitting in a warm hotel room (yes, perhaps I’m being a tad bit melodramatic).

So here comes the second edition of “Question of the Week.” Last weekend, I responded to a query about whether I hated Republicans.

The most interesting question this week comes from a German reader, who asks “Are there any issues where you have changed your mind since coming to Washington?”

I’m tempted to say no. I came to Washington guided by libertarian principles and I’m still motivated by a desire to increase human liberty.

But I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. Here are three areas where my views have evolved (though I hate using that word since it usually is used to describe the views of certain Republicans who have been in town too long and have decided big government is fine and dandy).

1. I’m much more uncomfortable about the death penalty. As I explained in my post about the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords, I’ve become more distrustful about the integrity of prosecutors. I think some of these politically ambitious jackals would deliberately send an innocent man to his death if it advanced their political careers. That being said, I’m a big believer that cost-benefit analysis is appropriate for criminal justice, so the deterrent value of the death penalty presumably saves some lives. In any event, I’m torn on this issue, though it doesn’t stop me from mocking groups that claim America is a horrible country because we still have capital punishment. And I also confessed this fantasy involving the death penalty.

“The fiscal collapse will happen after I leave office, so why worry?”

2. I now think Washington is pervasively corrupt. When I first came to town, I figured there was a lot of sleaze and graft facilitated by big government. Nothing has changed about that assessment, but I now think that a bigger problem is moral and cultural corruption among the political elite. Washington is filled with people who know the system is a racket. They know that the country is on a very dangerous trajectory. Many of them even understand what needs to be done to fix the problems. But they often decide that their short-run personal and political interests are more important than the long-run interests of the nation. But it’s also important to realize that politicians almost always are a combination of good and evil. The same folks who routinely cast bad votes every so often can be persuaded to do the right thing for the right reason, as occurred when GOPers in the House voted for the Ryan budget and its desperately needed entitlement reforms.

3. I’ve learned to be more careful about being myopically fixated on fiscal policy. As I noted in this post about tax rates, there are many factors that determine a nation’s economic performance. That’s hardly a breathtaking revelation, but in the past I have sometimes neglected to incorporate that understanding in my analysis. I’ve written positively about Ireland’s corporate tax regime, for instance, but failed to include important caveats about other government policies that were a threat to prosperity. This is a disservice to readers, and it also makes it easier for critics to put forth arguments such as “you said Ireland’s low corporate tax rate was a key to growth and look what happened.” To be sure, most of those folks would make those accusation even if I produced comprehensive analysis of Ireland’s good and bad policies. But I now try to be more careful so I don’t have to engage in after-the-fact elaborations.

I’m sure there are probably other ways in which my attitudes have changed over the years, but these are the things that come to mind.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to find a dark room and curl up in the fetal position.


Daniel J. Mitchell

Daniel J. Mitchell is a top expert on tax reform and supply-side tax policy at the Cato Institute.