Thursday, September 23, 2010

provocative contention?

From the September 16, 2010 article titled "Why Does Government Grow and Grow and Grow?" We read:

In an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, AEI President Arthur Brooks and Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) discuss why America continues to have big government even though Americans consistently tell pollsters that they’d prefer smaller government. The Left answers that Americans suffer from some form of cognitive dissonance, in which they retain nominal loyalty to an outmoded view (from the Left’s perspective) of the government’s role , while in practice embracing the benefits of expansive government.

Brooks and Ryan answer that, despite Americans’ broader preferences, elected officials present the public with marginal choices in which bigger government always wins. Feed hungry children? Check. Keep grandma out of poverty? Check. Once you check enough of these boxes, you end up with big government even if you say you’d prefer something smaller. Brooks and Ryan argue that citizens need to be presented with larger, macro-oriented choices rather than incremental ones, since only with big choices do voters focus on the larger decisions that need to be made. I agree with this strategy.

But I think there’s an alternate explanation that may better account for the growth of government and also show why that growth is so hard to stop. While aid for vulnerable groups obviously drives a lot of government spending, we could lift every American, young or old, above the poverty line with government transfers of around 1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). Yet the federal government today spends more than 25 percent of GDP. Big government isn’t generated by caring for the truly poor; after all, despite spending 25 times more than needed to fill the poverty gap, we nevertheless leave millions in poverty. Rather, rising pension and health spending on middle- and upper-class Americans—principally through the Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid programs—is the true fiscal burden and the largest imposition on personal choice and freedom. Without these three programs, the current size of government would be much smaller and the dangers of future fiscal catastrophe due to rising spending and debt would be all but eliminated. The question is: How did we get here?
[emphasis added]

The rest of the article explores that question. Go thou and read.


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