Opinion

Marco Rubio could be a great president — if he keeps up the reckless binge-spending

Three cheers for a profligate president!

Marco Rubio has struggled with money during his life, according to an obnoxious tut-tutting New York Times profile. Among other things, he has a nice house, a nice car, and bought a "luxury speedboat" for $80,000 after he got a book advance for 10 times as much. More worrisome, he reportedly mingled personal and campaign funds in a possibly illegal way.

Insofar as Rubio may have broken campaign finance law, that's worth knowing (though whatever he's done surely pales in comparison to Jeb Bush's entire candidacy thus far). And it needs to be said that while an $80,000 boat is definitely a luxury purchase, it's not even close to a "luxury yacht" — it's more like a bass-fishing boat. But the upshot of the condescending Times piece is that Rubio's policy choices are somehow now in question. The implication goes like this: Despite giving lip service to fiscal conservatism, is Rubio actually a spendthrift who would sink America under a pile of debt?

Let's take this ridiculous question at face value for a moment. By that logic, the truth would actually be the exact opposite: Rubio's professed policy positions are lame and impossible while his personal life would be a pretty good model for government policy — if anything, he's not been nearly profligate enough. What America has needed for years is a drunken spending binge that would put King Croesus to shame.

Remarkably there are glimmers of hope within Rubio's policy platform. Unusually for a Republican, he has a tax plan that is actually within spitting distance of being measurable! Also unusually for Republicans, it involves some transfers of income to someone besides the rich. He co-wrote a tax plan with Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) to give a tax break to parents. It deliberately leaves out the poor, and pays out more the more money you make, but it's still better than the carried interest loophole.

It won't pass, of course, because it would blow up the deficit, and Republicans have rhetorically boxed themselves in there by posturing against Obama's supposedly spendthrift policy. Political non-starter, but at least a flicker of a not-horrible idea. D plus.

That brings me back to the personal angle. Rubio has had a "strikingly low savings rate" over the past 15 years, harrumphs the Times, its monocle dropping into its organic quinoa. But if he brought that tendency to the White House, so what? The opposite approach — austerity — is terrible policy in a depression. Rubio's personal foibles, if we take the supposed logic here seriously, are actually reason to upgrade our estimate of his presidential potential.

One of the most obnoxious habits in Very Serious political journalism is the instinctive equation of the government budget with a household budget. But while overspending is a problem for individuals because they might outstrip their income, the government can create arbitrary quantities of dollars, and has the best credit rating in existence. Thus, its major question when it comes to spending is whether it might create excessive inflation, or crowd out private activity through increased interest rates. On both counts, it has the opposite problem right now: too little inflation, mass unemployment, and rock-bottom interest rates.

Since 2010, when the inadequate-but-still-good Obama stimulus faded out, the greatest problem with American budget policy by far has been insufficient spending. For seven years, we've had cheap commodities and labor, borrowing costs that were literally less than nothing for years on end, and infrastructure badly in need of repair and upgrading. A Rubio-style spending spree is just what the doctor ordered.

Of course, Rubio wouldn't actually try to save America's crumbling infrastructure, much less try and bring it up to scratch with developed-world standards. But that's obvious due to his party affiliation, and nothing else. The Times' arch, preening "investigation" is incoherent nonsense.

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