Where Liberals Should Oppose “Big Government”

by Will on September 28, 2010

In one of Al Franken’s books, back before anyone imagined that he would ever slip into the US Senate, he wrote to conservative reps and asked them to name a government program that had been successful. Many replied, citing a large number of successful state programs. Franken pretended he was going to also ask liberal reps to cite programs that had failed. He didn’t actually do it. But it’s a good exercise. Mainstream Democratic politicians in this country waste a lot of time signaling their Centrism by distancing themselves from the New Deal tradition. That’s silly. There are some problems in this country that require dramatic intervention, and others that require less intervention. Dems should signal their reasonability by supporting a mix of the two.

So I want to make a list of areas where I think the government should do less. Perhaps this can be a basis for compromise with persons of good faith on the other side.

*Defense spending: we have much more of it than we need. Indeed, many of our “defense” programs are counterproductive and make people want to kill us instead of trading with us.

*Agricultural subsidies: Corporate welfare, plain and simple. They also encourage production of the sort of food that will tend to make people fat. Get rid of them.

*Ethanol subsidies: these make my beer more expensive, and make food in general more expensive, and do no good whatsoever for air quality. Ditch ’em.

*Fannie Mae, Freddy Mac, and the tax deduction on mortgage interest: efforts to encourage homeownership are misguided, encourage housing speculation, and reduce labor mobility, thus aggravating recessions. We would be better off today if these programs had been ended years ago.

*Non-medical certification requirements: most of these are just a way that rent-seeking incumbents create needless barriers to entry in their profession. In most cases, simply having employers test applicants on their abilities and allowing the employees to unionize would produce the same quality of work.

*Land use laws: Planning departments should insist that all new buildings be structurally sound, but let go of the low-density requirements, the parking requirements, the setback requirements, and the zoning requirements. All of these encourage driving, emiserate mass transit, and encourage blight.

*INS enforcement: end it. For many years this country had completely open borders, and that was largely a time of prosperity and innovation. Immigration is a form of trade that enriches us all in numerous ways. Raids create needless fear and uncertainty, and are motivated by the worst kind of narrow-minded tribalism.

*Drug enforcement: like INS enforcement, there is ample evidence that it doesn’t work. Spend the money on rehab instead, and flood the airways letting people know that free rehab treatment is available. If people can be confident they will not be prosecuted, many will want to clean up. This would lessen the demand for such substances, which would decrease the price, and thus decrease the incentive to sell them, and thus decrease their availability and the number of people who use them.

*Roads and highways: I hate cars enough that I might be willing to privatize the roads if we can offset the savings with new spending on public works and education rather than on tax cuts. Also, private road operators might be more likely to introduce congestion pricing that would drive demand for mass transit. I make this offer partly because I know I shall have no takers.

I welcome any conservatives and libertarians who want to join me in achieving these goals! I believe that my spending cuts will lower the budget by at least 25 percent. It goes without saying that we should wait until we have healthy economic growth to institute them. I also will continue to push for much more spending on mass transit, more straight-up social insurance, more regulation of the financial sector, Pigovian taxes on undesirable behaviors such as pollution, and very high marginal tax rates on incomes over $1 million or so. Such is my preferred version of balance.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Chris Grande November 14, 2010 at 12:08 am

Hi Will,

Count me as someone willing to dialogue. Now let’s get our pols to do the same!


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