[T]here is no question that the Obama budget contemplates a growth of the federal government relative to both the states and civil society. This is what happened under FDR, driving the conservatives of the time to paroxysms of rage. Today’s conservatives are doing what Ronald Reagan never did–namely, relitigating the merits of the New Deal. It’s not clear whether Brooks intends to join them. If so, he should either argue explicitly that the New Deal was a mistake, or distinguish between today’s needs and those of the 1930s. If not, it’s hard to see the prima facie case against Obama’s course.
Well, leaving aside the merits of the New Deal, there is one major difference. In 1940, total federal, state and local spending in the United States equalled about 19% of the GDP (up from 13% in 1930). Today, it’s close to 37%. (The data can be found here.) Growing government from a small base is — to point out the obvious — not the same as growing it from a large base. A Rooseveltian expansion of government today would push its size to some 56% of the GDP.
Meanwhile, on Salon.com, Michael Lind castigates Obama for not being pro-big-government enough and for espousing market-oriented “neoliberalism,” a liberal adaptation to the tyranny of conservative free-market fundamentalists. (Back in June, Lind wrote that conservatism had already been defeated. Never mind.) He dislikes the cap-and-trade approach to pollution, preferring command-and-control. He is angry that Obama wants to encourage private initiative and investment to develop “green” energy, instead of organizing a government research program civilar to the one FDR created to develop the atomic bomb. (If Lind cannot see the difference between a weapons program with a very specific goal and the development of alternative energy sources in a vast and complex economy, trying to explain is hopeless.) He hails FDR as the model of centralized action that Obama is failling to emulate, since FDR “imposed a single, simple, efficient tax to pay for a single, simple, efficient public system of retirement benefits.” You’d think it was only “free-market fundamentalists” who have warned about the problems an aging population creates for Social Security.
By the way, here, Lind says that “socialism” is a racial code word in the same manner as “welfare queen.” But of course; that’s why there’s all this talk of “European” or “Swedish” socialism. Because when Americans think “Sweden,” they think “lazy shiftless blacks.” Makes perfect sense. Does anyone take Lind seriously?
And here on Slate.com, Jacob Weisberg explains why Obama is not a European-style social democrat and why “European socialism” wouldn’t work here even if Obama endorsed it. He makes an interesting case.
(Cross-posted on RealClearPolitics.com.)