October 1, 2003 -- Communism is dead; long live capitalism. Surely there is some truth to this claim, as even diehard advocates of communism are now in retreat. The second part of it, however, is questionable.
If by "capitalism" one means the application of free markets and limited government, in which public spending is a relatively small portion of private assets, then something is askew.
For well over half a century, Americans have been seduced into believing that government can solve problems the private sector either cannot or will not address. In many instances this is, of course, the case—as the conduct of war attests. However, we have gone so far in the direction of government growth that this nation has lost sight of its original purpose and dedication to limited government.
In fact, I would argue: communism is dead; long live Leviathan. The state has filled every corner of communitarian life, and both parties have embraced government activity as the first resort when problems arise.
It is instructive that President George W. Bush, who campaigned as a limited-government Republican, has translated compassionate conservatism into big spending and big-government programs. Some Republicans argue that the president is merely engaged in "triangulation" in order to assure his reelection. Whatever the motive, the result is the antithesis of what Republicans normally say, as well as Bush's campaign pledge. His administration is fully on the way to expanding the size, scope, and influence of government.
President George W. Bush, who campaigned as a limited-government Republican, translated compassionate conservatism into big spending and big-government programs.
Let me be specific. Steel tariffs imposed government relief on an industry unable to compete on its own. A newly proposed prescription drug bill will dramatically increase Medicare expenditures, to the tune of $400 billion over the next decade. Spending on highways has gone up 16 percent since Bush took office. Community- and regional-development allocations have increased 32 percent. General government expenses have gone up by 29 percent. To top it off, the president has yet to veto a single spending bill.
I sometimes have the impression that President Bush has conceded on arguments for spending limits as long as his foreign-policy and national-security consensus remain intact. Yet the net effect is large programs, big government, and a strain on the private sector, the very conditions Republicans railed against for decades.
I am an admirer of this president for his dedication to the war on terrorism, but I have to admit he is no supporter of limited government, no friend of free markets or fiscal restraint. The question I often ask is: Who is? Where have the acolytes of limited government gone?
At the state level, Republican governors are at least as culpable as their Democratic counterparts in promoting new programs with big price tags. Politicians realize there is a prospective program for everyone—what pundits of yesteryear once called "buying votes."
Whether liberal or conservative, government has a program for you. I can recall the generally favorable response to a campaign slogan I employed when running for public office: "It's not theirs to spend." What I tried to convey is the belief that government does not have a right to confiscate the fruits of hard-earned income beyond some reasonable level.
While the response to this generalization was favorable, any effort at fleshing out the specifics led to resistance. "What do you mean by saying Medicaid should be cut? My mother is supported in a state-subsidized nursing home." Or, "I don't think privatizing public colleges is a good idea. My daughter derives the benefit of a heavily subsidized community college."
There is scarcely an idea related to retrenchment that doesn't adversely affect some constituency. The government chessboard has a piece at every space, and there is little, if any, room for new moves.
As a consequence, politicians of every ideological stripe are advocates of big and bigger government. Where it will end is anyone's guess. One thing is certain—we are in the era of Leviathan. Big government is here to stay, and it hardly matters whether the president is a Republican or a Democrat. It is curious that New Deal legislation and Compassionate Conservativism have very similar results.