Monday, June 11, 2012

Government Is Not The Problem

Robbie Conal
Democrats have been on the defensive about the role of government at least since Ronald Reagan declared in his first inaugural address that  "government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem."  Reagan was so effective in portraying government intervention as nothing more than providing assistance to Cadillac-driving welfare queens that his successor, Bush the Elder, was able to  disparage his opponent Michael Dukakis merely by referring to him as a "liberal."  And when the Democrats finally took back the White House, it was Bill Clinton who boasted in his second State of the Union address that "the era of big government is over." 

E.J. Dionne argues in an excellent column today that we must "turn Ronald Reagan’s declaration on its head: Opposition to government isn’t the solution. Opposition to government was and remains the problem."
Decades of anti-government rhetoric have made liberals wary of claiming their legacy as supporters of the state’s positive role. That’s why they have had so much trouble making the case for President Obama’s stimulus program passed by Congress in 2009. It ought to be perfectly obvious: When the private sector is no longer investing, the economy will spin downward unless the government takes on the task of investing. And such investments — in transportation and clean energy, refurbished schools and the education of the next generation — can prime future growth.

Yet the drumbeat of propaganda against government has made it impossible for the plain truth about the stimulus to break through. It was thus salutary that Douglas Elmendorf, the widely respected director of the Congressional Budget Office, told a congressional hearing last week that 80 percent of economic experts surveyed by the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business agreed that the stimulus got the unemployment rate lower at the end of 2010 than it would have been otherwise. Only 4 percent disagreed. The stimulus, CBO concluded, added as many as 3.3 million jobs during the second quarter of 2010, and it may have kept us from lapsing back into recession.

So when conservatives say, as they regularly do, that “government doesn’t create jobs,” the riposte should be quick and emphatic: “Yes it has, and yes, it does!”

Indeed, our unemployment rate is higher today than it should be because conservatives blocked additional federal spending to prevent layoffs by state and local governments — and because progressives, including Obama, took too long to propose more federal help. Obama’s jobs program would be a step in the right direction, and he’s right to tout it now. But he should have pushed for a bigger stimulus from the beginning. The anti-government disposition has so much power that Democrats and moderate Republicans allowed themselves to be intimidated into keeping it too small.
As Dionne concludes, "It is past time that we affirm government’s ability to heal the economy, and its responsibility for doing so."


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