Wilkinson on Spending and Limited Government

Will Wilkinson couldn’t be more right about this:

I would argue that at least half of America’s military spending provides no benefit whatsoever to Americans outside the military-industrial welfare racket. But the other half may be doing some pretty important work. Rather than arguing dogmatically for a higher or lower level of total spending, it would be nice if we could focus a little and argue for and against the value of different kinds of spending, and then to focus a little more on the value of different ways of spending within budget categories. Some government spending gives folks stuff they want. Some government spending is worse than stealing money, throwing it in a hole and burning it. This is obvious when you think about it for a second, but it sometimes seems that partisan political discourse is based on the refusal to think about it at all. Conservatives with a libertarian edge often proceed as if government spending as such is an evil to resist, except when they’re defending a free-lunch tax cut (we’ll have more money to wrongly spend!) or the ongoing development of experimental underwater battle helicopters. And liberals with a social-democratic streak often operate within a framework of crypto-Keynesian mysticism according to which handing a dollar to government is like handing a fish to Jesus Christ, the ultimate multiplier of free lunches. When debate takes place on these silly terms, it seems almost impossible to articulate a vision of lean and limited government with principled, rock-solid support for spending on social insurance, education, basic research, essential infrastructure, and necessary defence, despite the likelihood that something along these lines is what most Americans want.

I’ve made made a similar point in the past. And here’s more from Bruce Bartlett.

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