The Economist, an excellent source of reporting and commentary, has an article this week (January 23-29, 2010 issue, pp. 11-12) just called “Stop!” The piece is a reflection on the election of a Republican to Teddy Kennedy’s senate seat and considers the “growl of hostility to the rising power of the state.” In fact, the article notes that even in “historically statist” places like southern Europe and Scandinavia people are concerned about “the size and effectiveness of government.”
I sometimes moan at congressmen on the news who talk about frugal government, since both parties have driven up the national deficit in years past and we ought to be honest about it. As this article points out, “George Bush pushed up spending more than any president since Lyndon Johnson.” In Britain, the Labour government has also driven up spending.
Regulation is another challenge in the problem of increasing state power. In Europe, for instance, “Conservatives tend to blame the growing thicket of rules on unwanted supranational bodies, such as the European Union,” but voters also want regulation in the form of anti-terrorist security and other safeguards. I can think of analogies in recent American history.
“A further danger consists in equating ‘smaller’ with 'better’,” says the article's author. “As the horrors in Haiti demonstrate, countries need a state of a certain size to work at all; and more government can be good. The Economist, for instance, is relieved that politicians stepped in to bail out the banks, since the risks of tumbling into a depression were large.”
But “reinventing government” is not easy. “In 1978 another American state shocked the world by rejecting big government: California’s tax-cutting Proposition 13 paved the way for Reaganism, but direct democracy has ended up making the Golden State’s government worse.” Often the solution is in more efficiency rather than in cost-cutting: “Scandinavia’s schools are expensive, but they are by and large more efficient than their Anglo-Saxon peers. Much of France’s health care is paid for by the state but supplied by private hospitals.” Another solution may simply be government cost-cutting rather than “smaller government.” The conversation about the size and effectiveness of government is ongoing!
Another article that I found interesting was in Foreign Policy (Jan/Feb. 2010) which, in a sidebar (p. 63) compared different approaches to American foreign policy. Our role in the world is, after all, an additional component of the discussion of small vs. large government; Reagan, for instance, preached smaller government but also increased the military and challenged Gorbachev to initiate changes. The Foreign Policy piece describes several philosophies to mull, which I simply copy here---because it’s interesting!
Jeffersonians (J. Q. Adams, Dwight Eisenhower, George Kennan, William Fulbright) like “limiting overseas entanglements, prioritizing domestic reform, warning of ‘imperial overstretch’” and dislike “bloated military budgets, imposing American values abroad, close alliances with foreign regimes.”
Hamiltonians (Daniel Webster, Henry Clay, Theodore Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush) like “economic frameworks for prosperity, G-20 summits, American power used to advance the national interest, opening foreign markets for American business, realism regarding U.S. goals and capabilities,” and dislike “expending resources on humanitarian missions, undue focus on the domestic politics of foreign allies, international human rights watchdogs.”
Wilsonians (Eleanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Paul Wolfowitz, Christopher Hitchens) like “spreading democratic values as a prerequisite for international stability, the United Nations, human rights” and dislike “isolationism, alliances with unsavory regimes, making policy based on narrow economic interests, balance of power politics.”
Jacksonians (W.T. Sherman, George S. Patton, Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan, Sarah Palin), like “muscular expansion of American power, unapologetic defense of U.S.” and dislike “international treaties, the United Nations, timidity, undue concern with human rights and other countries’ sovereignty.”