Not enough government?

On TNR.com a few days ago, William Galston criticizes David Brooks’ “Moderate Manifesto,” which accuses Obama of overreaching on an ambitious government-expanding agenda.  Says Galston:

[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.)

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5 Comments

Filed under conservatism, economy, liberalism, socialism, the left

5 responses to “Not enough government?

  1. Revenant

    By the way, here, Lind says that “socialism” is a racial code word in the same manner as “welfare queen.”

    Until such time as Obama is voted out of office or completes his second term, any and all criticism of left-wing policy will be considered code for racism by many on the left. That’s just how it is.

  2. Hi, I’ve been visiting your blog a lot and really like what you write. I have also enjoyed many of your articles for Reason – One that stands out in my mind is the review of Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy.

    Regarding this article, I do not know what to say except that I wouldn’t know how to argue with Mr. Lind, either. Sometimes I think it’s impossible to convince people who are almost religious about their ideas otherwise – not long ago, I had a big argument with a liberal friend about the issue of public vs. private schools. (She is a teacher, though, so I can understand why she’s so passionate about this issue.)

    Then again, trying to convert a libertarian to liberalism would probably be equally hard. :)

    Thank you for continuing to write your opinions.

  3. ad

    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%.

    I am told that the figure in France is ~ 45%. The scale of the difference between capitalist near-Bush-era America and socialist Europe is obvious, is it not?

  4. Nick S

    “Because when Americans think “Sweden,” they think “lazy shiftless blacks.” Makes perfect sense. Does anyone take Lind seriously?”

    Damn you Cathy! I have to go to work soon, and I’ll have a damn hard time wiping the grin off my face for the rest of the day.

  5. Jubal Biggs

    I like the article. As for the New Deal; I would absolutely say that it was a bad thing. FDR had a strange idea of the constitution; he thought it should change to fit the times, and he utterly transformed the way our government functions.
    I touch on FDR’s political sea change here;
    http://jubalbiggs.wordpress.com/2009/04/19/what-killed-the-gop/
    Anyway, keep up the good journalism.

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