David Brooks: Golly, How Did Government Get So Expensive?


If by "nobody seems to be asking," you mean "I don't read people who don't heart big-government conservatism"

David Brooks, October 2010:

[W]hat nobody seems to be asking is: Why are important projects now unaffordable? Decades ago, when the federal and state governments were much smaller, they had the means to undertake gigantic new projects, like the Interstate Highway System and the space program. But now, when governments are bigger, they don't.

The answer is what Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal once called demosclerosis. Over the past few decades, governments have become entwined in a series of arrangements that drain money from productive uses and direct it toward unproductive ones. […]

All in all, governments can't promote future prosperity because they are strangling on their own self-indulgence. […]

We have an immobile government that is desperately overcommitted in all the wrong ways.

David Brooks, August 2004:

[T]he size-of-government debate will not be the organizing conflict of the 21st century, the way it was for the 20th. Just as socialism will no longer be the guiding goal for the left, reducing the size of government cannot be the governing philosophy for the next generation of conservatives, as the Republican Party is only now beginning to understand. […]

[I]f the party is going to offer a positive, authoritative vision for the post-9/11 world, which is a world of conflict and anxiety, then it is going to have to develop a strong-government philosophy consistent with Republican principles. It will have to embrace a progressive conservative agenda more ambitious and fully developed than anything the Bush administration has so far articulated. […]

[C]onservatives have it in their power to refashion the political landscape. American politics is now polarized, evenly divided and stagnant. It has become like World War I. Each party is down in its trench, lobbing the same old arguments, relying on the same old coalitions. Neither party is able to gain a lasting advantage. Neither party is able to accomplish much that it is proud of.

BE the tank!

Trench warfare finally ended because somebody invented the tank. It is time for one party or another to invent the tank, some new governing philosophy that will broaden its coalition and transform the partisan divide. For Republicans, the progressive conservative governing philosophy is the tank. It is the approach to politics best suited to the emerging suburban civilization, best suited to life during a war on Islamic extremism. It is the way Republicans can build a governing majority and leave a positive mark on the nation and its destiny.

Better late than never, I suppose, but Brooks' clear track record–underlined by the closing two paragraphs of today's otherwise sensible column–is to reserve his distaste not for the people who made government too expensive and unwieldy to do anything useful, but for those damned ideologues who keep trying to trim it back. It is precisely progressive conservatism, along with progressive progressivism and "pragmatic" statism, that got us into this mess.

Link to the better column via Instapundit.