May 24, 2013
Zachary Karabell on ‘The Case for Big Government’
Posted on Feb 20, 2009
Madrick has a particular view of what constitutes the American dream, and the irony is that it is every bit as materialistic as the right that he excoriates. His ideas for what to do are predicated on the belief that “rapid economic growth remains among the nation’s most potent weapons for spreading opportunity, freedom and democracy.” But one could argue that the very goal of “rapid economic growth” is what has fueled the crises of recent decades, including the Internet bubble of the 1990s and the housing and credit bubbles.
The United States finds itself in an increasingly affluent and competitive world, where growth is not quite as easy as it was when there was a continent to conquer or a post-World War II world to rescue and protect. There is a case to be made that this phenomenon, more than lack of government, has eroded the standard of living and benefited those who have access to global capital over those who labor and work, hence the massive income inequalities. There are forces at work, in short, other than good policies or bad policies, good ideologies and destructive ones. It is undoubtedly true, as Madrick aptly demonstrates, that the case against big government has always rested on the flimsiest of foundation, and now at least, with crisis at hand, few are making that case with the same vigor of yore.
But one key issue few have addressed is that our current plight will lead to less ability for our society as a whole—government included—to unilaterally determine its own fate, and that all of the new and future spending programs do not and will not change that. Big government, small government, the United States is unlikely to return to what defined much of its history, which was independence from outside forces. Today, our government can spend what Madrick demands only because China is willing to lend us the money. That is a radical departure with radical and not yet understood implications. Madrick’s argument for big government has carried the day, but it is a fight of the last war, a passionate case made by a critic whose arguments have been vindicated but designed for a world that is receding into the past.
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