Wednesday, June 24, 2009

False Choices on Government

Shay over at Booker Rising, has this to say on my prior post:

I guess Mr. Sanders didn't see the recent Washington
Post-ABC News poll
showing that most American voters prefer 'smaller
government with fewer services' to 'larger government with more services'. This
Big Government moderate-liberal Republicanism ain't gonna cut it. Government
cannot lift poverty because it doesn't create wealth. Black Americans support
Big Government more than American society in general - I remember a poll a few
years ago showing almost 70% of black Americans supported a larger government,
and only 22% preferring a smaller government - and we see the results in too
many of our neighborhoods.

Hmmm...leaving aside the poll numbers for a moment, I have to wonder a few things:

First, what is meant by "smaller government?" Republicans have been tossing that phrase around for years, but we have never adequately defined it. Does it mean government has to do things more efficiently, or does it mean it only does a few things?

Second, I think Shay is guilty of putting forth a false choice that has bedeviled Republicans: either we have Big Government or Small Government. Arthur Larson, an aide to President Eisenhower and the author of the book, A Republican Looks at His Party said that the modern Republicanism espoused by Ike faced two schools of thought: the "1896 School" that believed government should do very little and business should be free to do as it pleases, and the "1936 School" which placed huge trust in government, but was generally anti-business. Larson wanted to put forth that Modern Republicanism was all about "balance" being pro-business and also seeing that government can and should do some things to create freedom among Americans.

For example, Shay notes that government can't lift people out of poverty because it doesn't create wealth. Well, I wasn't trying to say that government can create wealth. If the government comes in and just offers cash assistance to the poor, you have then made a population dependent on the dole. That isn't good for anyone.

However, government could finds ways to help people start small businesses which does create wealth. I'm not in favor of the typical liberal style of large programs that create more dependence than wealth, but the "small government" crowd doesn't even recognize poverty or what should be done help alleviate it. Government can't create wealth, but it can create spaces where wealth can happen. What government can do is create policies that spur freedom and independence, instead of depair or depenedence.

So, instead of doing too much or doing nothing, why don't we try to be smart in how we approach this and other issues?

1 comment:

Philip H. said...

You and I seem to be thinking alike. Witness my recent guest post at The Big Stick.