Tag: small government

Washington’s Range of Policy Options

Ezra Klein writes in the Washington Post that congressional Republicans have moved to the right on such issues as health care, stimulus spending, and a carbon tax, forcing Democrats to move to the center to find common ground. And thus:

If you imagine a policy spectrum that that goes from 1-10 in which 1 is the most liberal policy, 10 is the most conservative policy, and 5 is that middle zone that used to hold both moderate Democrats and Republicans, the basic shape of American politics today is that the Obama administration can and will get Democrats to agree to anything ranging from 1 to 7.5 and Republicans will reject anything that’s not an 8, 9, or 10. The result, as I’ve written before, is that President Obama’s record makes him look like a moderate Republicans from the late-90s.

His argument is that Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich used to support “the basic architecture of the Affordable Care Act,” John McCain (R-AZ) supported a cap-and-trade bill, George W. Bush pushed a stimulus bill in 2008—but now Republicans don’t want to support any of those policies. So, he says, Democrats have moved to the right, away from what they really want, like single-payer health care, command-and-control environmental regulation, and no cuts to entitlements plus massive new spending. He says that leads to center-right policy.

But another way to look at it is this: on his scale of 1 to 10, where 1 represents bigger government and 10 represents smaller government, what’s happening? Is government getting bigger or smaller? Take health care: if 1 represents national health care and 10 represents a free market in health care, then surely with income tax preferences for health insurance, Medicare, the prescription drug benefit, and government paying for more than half of all health care, we were at least at 5 by 2009. Everybody from Michael Cannon to Joe Biden thinks Obamacare is a BFD on the road to total government control of medicine. So let’s say it put us at 3 or 4.

You can see the same pattern in the other issues Klein discusses. Carbon tax, cap and trade, stimulus spending—they all make government bigger than it is now. So when Republicans endorse any of those policies, they are playing on bigger-government territory. Now, Republicans say they’re not going to do that any more. So Klein’s complaint is not really that Republicans are insisting on “8, 9, or 10” policies; they’re just no longer proposing policies in the 3 and 4 range, hoping that Democrats will agree to make government only a little bigger, rather than way bigger. Sounds like maybe the debate is moving back toward the 50-yard line, instead of taking place entirely in Democratic territory.

Note: Klein talked only about economic issues, so I’ve done the same. There’s a clear trend in a liberal/libertarian direction on social issues such as marriage and marijuana. And Republicans who propose further restricting immigration or getting involved in yet another Mideast war are hardly advocates of small government. This analysis deals only with fiscal, regulatory, and entitlements issues.

The Flawed Bipartisan Consensus on Military Spending and Foreign Policy

I have a new piece up at ForeignPolicy.com this morning, commenting on the GOP’s apparent confusion about government spending and the effects that such spending has on others.

The party that opposes nearly all other forms of federal spending happily embraces the military variety. Republicans assert that military spending cuts will result in massive job losses, even as they argue that cuts in other federal spending would grow the economy and create jobs in the private sector. They are skeptical that the federal government should engage in nation-building at home, but celebrate it abroad. Republican candidate Mitt Romney accuses Obama of fostering a “culture of dependency” in the United States, yet ignores that U.S. security guarantees have created an entire class of affluent countries around the world that now rely upon U.S. tax dollars to pay for their defense.

Trouble is, as I point out, President Obama “hasn’t been anxious to kick other countries off the dole.” He boasts that the “the United States is still the world’s ‘indispensable nation,’” and he pledges that the U.S. military will continue “to underwrite global security,” which doesn’t leave much for anyone else’s military to do.

Such an ambitious mission is expensive.

Obama’s unwillingness to make deep cuts in military spending confirms his rhetoric. Over the next decade, the Pentagon’s annual base budget (which excludes most war costs) will average $517 billion in constant 2012 dollars, 11 percent higher than what Americans spent during the George W. Bush years.

For many Republicans, but especially for Mitt Romney, that isn’t nearly enough. They accuse the president of gutting the Pentagon’s budget, and loudly complain about his unwillingness to undo the automatic spending cuts that would cut even more (that they, inconveniently, engineered).

Republicans could reasonably claim that military spending should get a pass because the Constitution clearly stipulates a federal role in defending the country. But nowhere is it written that Americans must provide security for others; that is the job of their governments, not America’s.

Indeed, the Republicans’ reflexive commitment to more military spending is particularly curious given their appreciation for how incentives work in the domestic sphere. Republicans know quite well that people are not inclined to pay for things that others will provide for them. GOP leaders speak often of moral hazards – when individuals or businesses behave irresponsibly because others are there to bail them out. The same problem exists in international politics, but is strangely ignored in the GOP’s plan to continue policing the world.

I conclude the piece with some unsolicited advice for the GOP nominee, but I doubt he’s listening. You can read the whole thing here.

The Curious Case of Lloyd Chapman

Last week, I flayed the American Small Business League’s Lloyd Chapman for his absurd claim that legislation introduced by Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) would close the Small Business Administration (see here). As I expected, Chapman’s response is equally absurd.

In an ASBL press release, Chapman actually threatens to take me to court over my calling him a “conspiracy theorist”:

The next time you call me a conspiracy theorist, be ready to back it up with facts. You just might find yourself in court.

Good luck with that, Lloyd. In the meantime, let’s allow the court of public opinion to decide if the following claim you recently made is the stuff of a conspiracy theorist:

Clearly Republicans like Senator Burr, his supporters and groups such as the CATO Institute are directed like puppets by the defense and aerospace industry.

I can’t speak for Sen. Burr, but Chapman’s assertion that the Cato Institute is being “directed like puppets by the defense and aerospace industry” is ridiculous. Cato’s Downsizing Government website, which I co-edit, lays out the case for cutting the Department of Defense.

My Cato colleagues past and present have consistently advocated for a limited U.S. presence abroad:

Cato’s foreign policy vision is guided by the idea of our national defense and security strategy being appropriate for a constitutional republic, not an empire. Cato’s foreign policy scholars question the presumption that an interventionist foreign policy enhances the security of Americans in the post-Cold War world, and maintain instead that interventionism has consequences, including the formation of countervailing alliances, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and even terrorism. The use of U.S. military force should be limited to those occasions when the territorial integrity, national sovereignty, or liberty of the United States is at risk.

Does that strike the reader as anything the defense and aerospace industry would direct Cato to advocate? Clearly, Chapman is hopelessly lost in a fantasy world of his own creation.

Perhaps realizing that he embarrassed himself by threatening me with legal action, Chapman now says that he wants to take a different approach:

I am sure that Tad DeHaven and the staff at the CATO Institute have seen my press release in response to their attack on my credibility. I’d like to take this opportunity to try a different approach and appeal to their sense of patriotism, logic and reason.

He then proceeds to talk about all of the jobs that small businesses create and the fact that federal contracts set aside for small businesses sometimes end up instead benefiting large businesses. Uh, Lloyd, in my “attack” on you, I never said otherwise. I even noted that “Chapman is correct that government contracting is fraught with fraud and abuse.” In my testimony on the SBA before the Senate Small Business Committee, I discussed examples of fraud and abuse in government contracting, including federal contracts set aside for small businesses that ended up benefiting large companies like General Electric and Lockheed Martin.

As I noted in my “attack,” Chapman is focused on the contracting issue whereas I’m primarily focused on the SBA’s loan guarantee programs. I frankly don’t care what firms receive federal contracts so long as work is performed at the lowest cost to taxpayers. I’m more concerned with reducing the size and scope of government, which would mean lower taxes and fewer burdensome regulations for small businesses. Moreover, does Chapman not understand that those government contracts are paid for, in part, by other small businesses through taxes? I would argue that the strength of the small business community should be measured by the goods and services produced for private consumption, not government consumption.

Finally, if Chapman is so pro-small business/anti-big business, why isn’t he concerned with the SBA’s loan guarantee programs? I challenged Chapman on this issue:

I’m all for a serious discussion and debate on the SBA. The SBA’s loan guarantee programs benefit a relatively tiny number of small businesses at the expense of the vast majority of small businesses that do not receive government support. Moreover, the biggest winners from these loan guarantees are big banks who reap the profits but get to kick the bulk of any losses to the government. One would think a pro-small business/anti-big business guy like Chapman would be concerned by this. Instead, Chapman consistently resorts to wild exaggerations and conspiracy theories. As a result, I can’t take him seriously. It’s too bad policymakers do.

The silence from Chapman on this matter is deafening. In addition to resorting to wild exaggerations and conspiracy theories, we can now add the threat of legal action. Until Chapman dispenses with the antics, policymakers should stop taking him seriously.

Obama vs. Common Sense

President Obama delivered a commencement speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday.

He called on all Americans “to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate.”  Who could argue? Yet the president apparently believes that civility means protecting his policies from valid criticism.

He instructed graduates that “the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship.”  Right again.  But the civics lesson rings hollow coming from a president who falsely claimed there was “no disagreement” over his massive “stimulus” bill, and that opponents of his health care takeover offered no proposals of their own.

He explained, “what we should be asking is not whether we need ‘big government’ or a ‘small government,’ but how we can create a smarter and better government.”  Which is pretty much what every politician says when he wants big government and voters want small government.

Most troubling was this: “What troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad.”  That remark reminded me of this passage from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense: “Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil.” And it has me thinking that our president, a former constitutional law professor, who just received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Michigan, really doesn’t get the American idea of government. At all.

Americans Want Smaller Government

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll again shows that voters prefer “smaller government with fewer services” to “larger government with more services”:

Obama has used the power and financial resources of the federal government repeatedly as he has dealt with the country’s problems this year, to the consternation of his Republican critics. The poll found little change in underlying public attitudes toward government since the inauguration, with slightly more than half saying they prefer a smaller government with fewer services to a larger government with more services. Independents, however, now split 61 to 35 percent in favor of a smaller government; they were more narrowly divided on this question a year ago (52 to 44 percent), before the financial crisis hit.

The Post calls a 54 to 41 lead for smaller government “barely more than half,” which is fair enough, though it’s twice as large as Obama’s margin over McCain. It’s also twice as large as the margin the Post found in the same poll in November 2007.

I’ve always thought the “smaller government” question is incomplete. It offers respondents a benefit of larger government–”more services”–but it doesn’t mention that the cost of “larger government with more services” is higher taxes. The question ought to give both the cost and the benefit for each option. A few years ago a Rasmussen poll did ask the question that way. The results were that 64 percent of voters said that they prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes, while only 22 percent would rather see a more active government with more services and higher taxes. A similar poll around the same time, without the information on taxes, found a margin of 59 to 26 percent. So it’s reasonable to conclude that if you remind respondents that “more services” means higher taxes, the margin by which people prefer smaller government rises by about 9 points. So maybe the margin in this poll would have been something like 59 to 37 if both sides of the question had been presented.

For more on “smaller government” polls, see here and here.

Rush Limbaugh Is Not the Problem

Brink Lindsey’s post, triggered by Jerry Taylor’s controversial critique of conservative talk radio at National Review online,  is part of a much-needed debate about the changes needed to create more fertile soil for limited-government – a task that is especially difficult given the GOP’s decade-long embrace of statist economic policy.

But in the spirit of friendly disagreement, the problem is not Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Talk radio, after all, existed when Republicans were riding high and promoting small government in the 1990s.

The real problem is that today’s GOP politicians are unwilling to even pretend that they believe in limited government. In such an environment, it is hardly a surprise that anti-tax and anti-spending voters decide that talk show hosts are de facto national leaders.

This does not mean that Rush Limbaugh is always right or that Sean Hannity never engages in demagoguery. But I suspect if any of us had to be live on the air three hours every day and support our families by attracting an audience, our efforts to be entertaining might result in an occasional mistake - either factually or rhetorically. Heck, when I had to be on the air for just one hour each day in the mid-1990s for the fledgling conservative television network created by the late Paul Weyrich, I’m sure I had more than my share of errors.

This being said, I agree with Brink’s main points about conservatism being adrift. How come there were no tea parties when Bush was expanding the burden of government? Why didn’t conservative think tanks rebel when Bush increased the power of the federal government? Where were the supposedly conservative members of the House and Senate when Bush was pushing through pork-filled transportation bills, corrupt farm bills, a no-bureaucrat-left-behind education bill, and a massive entitlement expansion?

I sometimes wonder if the re-emergence of another Reagan would make a difference, but Brink (and Posner, et al) offer compelling reasons to believe that the problems are much deeper.

Who’s Blogging about Cato

Here’s a round-up of bloggers who are writing about Cato this week:

  • Writing at the Adam Smith Institute blog, Phillip Salter discusses Patrick J. Michaels’s proposal that scientific articles should be available online for public comment.
  • Penning his thoughts on Obama’s plan to raise taxes on oil and gas usage, Wintery Knight cites Jerry Taylor’s research that shows why similar price control programs didn’t work in the 1970s.
  • Reihan Salam quotes William Niskanen on The Atlantic’s Washington blog in a post about the “starve the beast” theory that says lawmakers can slow government’s growth by lowering taxes and running up deficits.
  • Think Progress blogger Matthew Yglesias responds to Michael Cannon’s work on health care reform in a post about Obama’s White House health care summit.
  • Dr. Paul Hsieh of FIRM (Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine) and Brian Schwartz of Patient Power cite John H. Cochrane’s Cato paper on free market solutions to health care security.