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The romance of government vs. the reality

David Brooks writes (HT: Arnold Kling):

The social fabric is fraying. Human capital is being squandered. Society is segmenting. The labor markets are ill. Wages are lagging. Inequality is increasing. The nation is overconsuming and underinnovating. China and India are surging. Not all of these challenges can be addressed by the spontaneous healing powers of the market.

Brooks wants a GOP that is open to activist government. There’s only one problem. Which of those challenges Brooks lists can be addressed by the top-down healing powers of the Washington establishment? Washington’s specialty is fraying the social fabric and mucking up labor markets. He left out the fact that the housing market is a mess (thanks Washington!) and that capital markets don’t allocate capital to their highest valued use because Washington has taken the loss out of the profit and loss calculus. The messed up capital markets and broken housing market are a huge part of the reason that human capital is being squandered and wages are lagging. Government schools also contribute to both of those problems.

Brooks wants the GOP to have a vision of what the role of government will be after we step off the road to serfdom. Here’s one. In a world of smaller government, we’ll be more free to cooperate with each other to make goods and services for each other and to take care of each other in creative ways that are currently stifled by government either directly through regulation or indirectly though crowding out. Make government smaller and we’ll have more private and voluntary interactions that we choose using our knowledge of what is needed for ourselves and for others.

The opposite of the road to serfdom isn’t the road to selfishness–it’s the road to freedom. Let us be free to help ourselves and others. That’s real healing not the fake kind that’s prescribed by Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner or Harry Read or Barack Obama or Mitt Romney or Sarah Palin. They can’t heal us. Never could and never will.

The advocates of bigger government are always talking about what “we” can do together. But that’s a fantasy. Government isn’t “us.” Government is a bunch of politicians and bureaucrats trying to keep their jobs. Yes, they listen to the voice of the people. But some voices are louder than others.

Make government smaller and we get more of what we really can do together. And it’s not just more stuff, more gadgets, more material well-being. We do get more stuff and that’s pleasant, but that isn’t what gives life deep meaning. Deep meaning and true satisfaction comes from working with others on something bigger than ourselves. That comes from building our family. That comes from striving to reach something that exceeds our grasp. That’s what we get more of when government gets smaller.


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