Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The myth of smaller government

The rallying cry on the libertarian right has been--for a very long time--smaller government, limited government. It's a theme over two hundred years old, occasionally forgotten in the moment (like during a war), but always just below the surface, when not in full view.

And people are very quick to forget that it was still in evidence during the previous administration, that there were conservative types and libertarian types quite unhappy with the spending of the Bush administration, particularly the domestic spending for the former, the military spending for the latter. With the popping of the housing bubble and the slide into near-depression, the call for fiscal responsibility in government grew, even as some argued that the government needed to increase it's spending (and size) to save the nation's economy. 

Even today, with the dismal results from past so-called stimulus spending fully in evidence, there are people that argue for more and more spending, more and more government programs, to save the nation from ruin. And this is no novel approach, it's standard fare. Even with some calling for prudent approaches to economic downturns, for government cuts (to reflect the loss of government revenue), the reality is that the government always grows.

The WSJ reveals the less-than-surprising final numbers for the Federal Government, fiscal year 2010:
The Congressional Budget Office recently finished tallying the revenue and spending figures for fiscal 2011, which ended September 30, and no wonder no one in Washington is crowing. The political class might have its political pretense blown. This is said to be a new age of fiscal austerity, yet the government had its best year ever, spending a cool $3.6 trillion. That beat the $3.52 trillion posted in 2009, when the feds famously began their attempt to spend America back to prosperity.
And much of the increased spending comes in the form of new programs, new initiatives, and the like. What happens if a true-blue conservative/libertarian, determined to "shrink" the government, take the reins of power in 2012?  At best, spending is checked, growth rates are limited, and the federal government merely grows more slowly. This reality is laid bare by an examination of the Reagan years. The only place and time--that I know of--that saw an actual reversal of the modern welfare state is England, under Margaret Thatcher (who remains the great Satan for a fair majority of English politicians). It just doesn't happen, regardless of the rhetoric.

Remember, the admin recently cut a deal with House Republicans--in order to up the debt ceiling--wherein there would be meaningful spending cuts. Well, where are they? And if--by some weird miracle--Obama's "Jobs Bill" is passed in full, those cuts--however minimal--will disappear in a puff of ideological smoke.

For those of us that think the government really does need to cut back, really does need to get its own fiscal house in order, where does that leave us? No matter what we say, how loudly we scream, how many politicians we put in office, an actual decrease in the size of government is a pipe dream. That's the reality we need to recognize, to accept. So? We scream louder, work harder, and make even more outrageous demands, because that is the only way to even chip away at the growth, to minimize it, to prevent it from going exponential.

There is a dead end out there.And we're going to run into it, eventually. The question is, how long will it take and how fast will we be going when we get there? Make it a long, slow drive, that's the only solution. And-not surprisingly--Madison and company knew this, all the way back in the eighteenth century.

Cheers, all.

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