Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Big Government Myth


The recent financial turmoil has made it very easy to see the fallacy in the argument that the unrestrained free market is the ultimate cure-all for all ills. As Thomas Friedman wrote recently, "If it weren’t for the government bailing out Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and A.I.G., and rescuing people from Hurricane Ike and pumping tons of liquidity into the banking system, our economy would be a shambles." He went on to add -- never missing a chance to allude to his pop-political science books -- that "[i]n this age of globalization, government matters more than ever. Smart, fiscally strong governments are the ones best able to empower their people to compete and win." All this before the recent financial institution collapses, which, as Paul Krugman explains, are setting us up for even greater financial disaster if the government fails to act.

Friedman goes on to explain that "George W. Bush never once — not one time — challenged Americans to do anything hard, let alone great. The next president is not going to have that luxury. He will have to ask everyone to do something hard." In other words, as others have pointed out before, while Republicans love to talk about sacrifice when it comes to the military and more specifically John McCain's war record, they don't want to talk about sacrifice when it comes to taxes and the economy. The need for a bailout must be hard for Republicans to swallow because their philosophy is an attractive lie that they are used to selling the American people: you can have your cake in eat it, too. In other words, we don't have to pay taxes, especially the wealthy, and that's really what works out for the best for everyone. As we are seeing -- turns out that's not quite the case -- we do have to sacrifice in the form of taxes in order to have a government that can both protect citizens and help to grease the bearings of the financial economy.

But this, of course, isn't the most infuriating lie about big government that Republicans have propogated. What I want to know is, where did the popular "get the government out our lives" refrain come from? This is the true myth of big government. First, let's keep in mind that it's the Republicans who, for the last couple decades, have been the ones to outspend the Democrats. But more importantly, what are people talking about when they complain about big government? I don't hear anyone complaining about having roads, I'm pretty sure people like having food and drugs that aren't tainted, and now people sure wish the government had more closely regulated the home and financial markets. The big government myth is just that -- a myth. Republicans have given people a useful frame for justifying their views: "I'm not selfish for not wanting to pay taxes to help people, I just want government out of life -- Now please watch out as I drive on a federal highway in my Suburban to the market to purchase federally regulated food and drugs that I know are safe."

Obama undertsands that there needs to be a relationship between government and the market. He also undertsands that we can't have our cake and eat it, too. In fact, a speech he gave back in March -- which a commentator on this blog alerted me to -- proves this point. I'll be posting more on that later. Until then, let's hope Obama makes the right move and tells McCain that if what he wants to do is focus on the economy than they should make that the topic of tonight's debate.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Big Government translated:
I'm prejudiced against group X, the nation as a whole does not agree with my prejudice against group X, but all of my friends do. If I could just localize the issue they would legalize discrimination against group X and I would be happier.

Or:
I'm a religious nut and I hate how the government tells me that I'm wrong when I'm very wrong and I really want my kids to learn that the bible is literally true and not have to "unteach" all the real educating that gets done in public schools so I wish that my local group of people exactly like me would make it legal for me to beat my kids into submission until they refuse to say that we came from monkeys.

Jester Nix said...

Big Government =/= market regulation. all but the strictest laissez-faire capitalists believe in some form of market regulation.

When I hear "Big Government," i think Department of Homeland Security, which was the single biggest government restructuring in the history of the United States, and has spent more money to accomplish less than any other government body I can imagine.

When I think of "Big Government" I think of the legalization of Wiretapping and Surveillance that happened this summer, destroying the fourth amendment. I think of Diebold and how the government and the media conspired to hide the fact that something was fishy. I think of Beauracracy and red tape.

I'm one of the most extreme libertarians that I know.. but I do agree that some government regulation is good for the market. It's immature to dismiss that notion entirely. But when you say Big Government is good, I could not possibly disagree more.

Vox Populi said...

To respond to Jester -- I'm not saying big government is good -- but healthcare and education for the poor has to come from somewhere. So does regulation of our food, drugs, and highways. I'm willing to accept some inefficiency in these things because I value other people's health and welfare. To say that "big government" is bad is to mask what a libertarian or conservative is really saying: we don't value the health and welfare of others to the same degree. That's fine, libertarians value personal liberty above all else -- but I disagree with it.

Anonymous said...

I heard this morning that in Bush's speech concerning the $700B bailout, he said something to the effect of "we have time to discuss the origins of our current financial crisis after we get it resolved, but I will say that it reaches back to at least a decade ago". So in essence, he will sponsor this "Big Government" bailout which is completely against the Republican ideals, but then somehow will manage to get out of it by blaming the origins of the crisis on the Clinton administration.

Anonymous said...

I think you need a post entitled: "Now is not a time to point fingers (at me)"