Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Role of Government

By David Brooks
Published in the New York Times (September 13, 2010)
"We need a limited-but-energetic government..."
The fact is, the American story is not just the story of limited governments; it is the story of limited but energetic governments that used aggressive federal power to promote growth and social mobility. George Washington used industrial policy, trade policy and federal research dollars to build a manufacturing economy alongside the agricultural one. The Whig Party used federal dollars to promote a development project called the American System.
Abraham Lincoln supported state-sponsored banks to encourage development, lavish infrastructure projects, increased spending on public education. Franklin Roosevelt provided basic security so people were freer to move and dare. The Republican sponsors of welfare reform increased regulations and government spending — demanding work in exchange for dollars.
Throughout American history, in other words, there have been leaders who regarded government like fire — a useful tool when used judiciously and a dangerous menace when it gets out of control. They didn’t build their political philosophy on whether government was big or not. Government is a means, not an end. They built their philosophy on making America virtuous, dynamic and great. They supported government action when it furthered those ends and opposed it when it didn’t.
If the current Republican Party regards every new bit of government action as a step on the road to serfdom, then the party will be taking this long, mainstream American tradition and exiling it from the G.O.P.
That will be a political tragedy. There are millions of voters who, while alarmed by the Democrats’ lavish spending, still look to government to play some positive role. They fled the G.O.P. after the government shutdown of 1995, and they would do so again.
It would be a fiscal tragedy. Over the next decade there will have to be spending cuts and tax increases. If Republicans decide that even the smallest tax increases put us on the road to serfdom, then there will never be a deal, and the country will careen toward bankruptcy.
It would also be a policy tragedy. Republicans are right to oppose the current concentration of power in Washington. But once that is halted, America faces a series of problems that can’t be addressed simply by getting government out of the way.

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