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September 23, 2005

Myth of Republican Small Government

What's truly bizarre is the idea that Bush is somehow not being a Republican because he is spending lots of government money. Many bloggers are arguing that because spending has surged under Bush, as this piece from Reason notes, this means that Bush is somehow betraying traditional conservatism.

But the history of the GOP has been big government spending in support of business interests. In the 19th century, the GOP promoted high tariffs as a way to subsidize railroads and other business interests through issuing bonds from their expansion.

In the 1950s, Republicans championed massive expansions of Interstate Highways and other high-technology subsidies to suburban research centers, which served conservative anti-urban goals.

In the 1980s under Reagan, just like under Bush today, we had the massive military buildup which served the GOP's network of defense contractor supporters. Bush's creation of the Medicare Prescription Drug plan was also designed to enrich his pharmaceutical allies.

Looking at government spending as a measure of liberalism versus conservatism is just buying into conservative campaign rhetoric. But the key is what is done with that spending and, as importantly, what is done with regulatory policy that doesn't cost government a dime but can massively redirect money in the private sector.

  • Anti-labor rulings by the National Labor Relations Board moves money from workers to employers
  • The new bankruptcy law will move billions from debtors to credit card companies.
  • Anti-environmental policies will save polluters money and cost the victims their health and health care costs.

    And there are many more examples where the federal government under Bush "spends" hundreds of billions of private sector money through regulations.

    Wth both the regular government spending and the regulatory spending, the key is not the total amount but who benefits from it. The true measure of ideology is that Bush has been dramatically conservative in making sure that the beneficiaries of his spending are the corporate business class. Who benefits, not how much is spent, should be the focus of ideological debate.

    Posted by Nathan at September 23, 2005 07:38 AM