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If You Want Good Government You Have to Trust Government April 22, 2010

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, politics.
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Regarding how we get out of the fiscal mess created by the Bush Administration, Tyler Cowen makes an important point:

Most relevant, perhaps, is Canada, which cut federal government spending by about 20 percent from 1992 to 1997. The Liberal Party, headed by Jean Chrétien as prime minister and Paul Martin as finance minister, led most of this shift. Prompted by the financial debacle in Mexico, Canadian leaders had the courage and the foresight to make those spending cuts before a fiscal crisis was upon them. In his book “In the Long Run We’re All Dead: The Canadian Turn to Fiscal Restraint,” Timothy Lewis describes Canada’s move from fiscal irresponsibility to a balanced budget — a history that helps explain why the country has managed the current global recession relatively well.

To be sure, the spending cuts meant fewer government services, most of all for health care, and big cuts in agricultural subsidies. But Canada remained a highly humane society, and American liberals continue to cite it as a beacon of progressive values.

Counterintuitively, the relatively strong Canadian trust in government may have paved the way for government spending cuts, a pattern that also appears in Scandinavia. Citizens were told by their government leadership that such cuts were necessary and, to some extent, they trusted the messenger.

It’s less obvious that the United States can head down the same path, partly because many Americans are so cynical about policy makers. In many ways, this cynicism may be justified, but it is not always helpful, as it lowers trust and impedes useful social bargains.

Forces like the Tea Party movement argue for fiscal conservatism, though it isn’t obvious that they are creating the conditions for success.

The one thing I disagree with is his claim that this is counter-intuitive. The way to a sound fiscal policy is not putting angry, anti-government know-nothings in control of the government. Since they are not interested in governing but rather in destroying government, they will not be trusted by the vast majority of Americans who think government has a positive role to play.

The problem in the U.S. is that the opposition party, while claiming to want more efficiently managed government, really wants something different—a government that performs very few governmental functions. For conservatives, cutting costs is not about doing more with less; it is about doing less period. 

Cutting budgets for conservatives is a means to destroying government, not making it more efficient. Effective management is beside the point.

Although that will not encourage trust, it will encourage the robber barons who are poised to exploit the ensuing chaos.

book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

For political commentary by Dwight Furrow visit: www.revivingliberalism.com

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