Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Not Drunk (Enough) With Power

Normally I find myself in pretty close agreement with Paul Krugman, and I even think his Keynesianism is thoughtful and in the current circumstances practical (though his condescension towards the Austrians is a vice), but he has this big government FDR fixation that goes along with it that drives me nuts.  A recent column begins with:

Times have changed. In 1996, President Bill Clinton, under siege from the right, declared that "the era of big government is over." But President-elect Barack Obama, riding a wave of revulsion over what conservatism has wrought, has said that he wants to "make government cool again."

Before Mr. Obama can make government cool, however, he has to make it good. Indeed, he has to be a goo-goo.

Goo-goo, in case you're wondering, is a century-old term for "good government" types, reformers opposed to corruption and patronage. Franklin Roosevelt was a goo-goo extraordinaire. He simultaneously made government much bigger and much cleaner. Mr. Obama needs to do the same thing. ...

I'm all for better government.  And I agree that government could theoretically get both bigger and better at the same time, depending on who is running it.  But someone as smart as Krugman is being disingenuous in writing a column like that without even mentioning that bigger government works like a ratchet -- once you make it bigger, it is impossible to shrink it again.  Combine this simple insight with the realization that FDR or Obama or whoever your patron saint of the day might be will not be around forever, and you have a powerful argument for doing everything you can to minimize the size of the government over time. 

Cleaner government is always needed, and perhaps bigger government is needed in a crisis, but big clean government inevitably gets dragged through the mud and ends up as a big dirty pig.

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