Government Spending

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

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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.

NEXT: What Should a Taxpayer Receipt Tell Taxpayers About How Their Money Is Being Spent?

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  1. “Just as socialism will no longer be the guiding goal for the left”

    Pardon?

    1. You caught that, too? It is to laugh!

  2. Big Government is the only solution to all of our complex problems… just not THAT version of Big Government.

    FAIL

  3. Reminds me of the frequent complaints from liberals that we can’t build as much infrastructure as fast as we used to– which is obviously the fault of libertarians and conservatives for only allowing spending to grow slightly as a percentage of GDP, and not the fault of liberal reforms (from Davis-Bacon and Buy American to Environmental Impact Statements and stakeholder inputs) that make everything more than twice as expensive and take four times as long.

    Even if you believe in the tradeoffs being made, you shouldn’t be shocked that they exist.

  4. [W]hat nobody seems to be asking is: Why are important projects now unaffordable?

    No, Stupid, the question nobody is asking is, “With a plan as awesome as this, why don’t we just spend our own money on it, and keep our hands out of everybody else’s pockets?”

    It’s a silly question, but why hasn’t anybody suggested issuing stock in the Hudson River Tunnel Corporation, in the anticipation of a stream of income derived from charging people who ride trains back and forth from New Jersey to Manhattan?

    1. That is a great idea. And it won’t happen because Brooks fails to mention the other piece of this, the regulatory state. Good luck in getting the permits necessary to build such a tunnel. The country once had a great tradition of building private sector infrastructure. Now thanks mostly to the environmental movement, such projects are well neigh impossible.

      And on the scale of fiscal crimes, building a tunnel hardly rates. If only the country was going broke because it was building too many roads and tunnels.

    2. Well, Sam Staley of the Reason Foundation has suggested that. But I suppose you meant people with real political power who would actually be pushing the project.

    3. It’s a silly question, but why hasn’t anybody suggested issuing stock in the Hudson River Tunnel Corporation, in the anticipation of a stream of income derived from charging people who ride trains back and forth from New Jersey to Manhattan?

      Because nobody other than a government would sink their own money into a project that will be a money pit, losing huge sums of money year after year.

      1. Because nobody other than a government would sink their own money into a project that they know for sure will be a money pit, losing huge sums of money year after year.

        Fixed it for you; don’t claim too much. Private actors do stupid things all the time; however, the market punishes them and private mistakes eventually end. Not so with government mistakes.

  5. Brooks just can’t help himself from being a shithead. No one on the right is mindlessly saying “less less less”. They are doing exactly what Brooks claims needs to be done, “this but not that”. Since we have lots of this but very little of “not that”, they are concentrating on the “not that”. But Brooks can’t help himself but to throw out the jab. Poor Brooks, all of the wrong people keep turning out to be right. It must be horrible for him.

  6. 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

    flights of tangerines

    careening yellow flowers

    truth speaks in grave tongues

  7. It’s also funny to see the implicit assumption on the part of all the distraught handwringers that New Jersey couldn’t possibly survive on its own.

    “Why, without New York City, New Jersey would be nothing more than a primordial swamp! We’re trying to rescue the poor creatures, and look at the way they treat us!”

  8. “Golly, How Did Government Get So Expensive?”

    [Scratches head] Wow, that is a conundrum. Um, evil corporate plots? Bush?

    1. Citizens United. Spluh!

      1. Deregulation!

        1. Medicare fraud!

    2. Elliot Spitzer said it was the libertarians and he’s a real stand-up guy.

  9. “Golly, How Did Government Get So Expensive?”

    Well, ummmm, you see, when the Daddy Bee wants to…. No, forget I said that.

    It’s just Nature. You wouldn’t understand. Maybe when you’re older.

  10. What the fuck is progressive conservatism? Big government for Jesus? I don’t get it.

    Conservatism as I understand it is a loose collection of governing philosophies defined more or less by their failure to do anything useful for the world.

    YOU guys and the tea party are defined by your lack of awareness of the existence of the 20th century, at least the one that occurred in this universe. You’re useless.

    1. Where Have All the Good Trolls Gone?

    2. Progressive conservativism is where you start wars in small foreign countries AND increase the size of the Dept. of Education. According to Karl Rove it would lead to 40 years of Republican majorities (I believe he was 34 years short). It was a fucking trainwreck… Which is why progressive conservatives like Mike Castle, Lisa Murkoski and Bob Bennett are out on their ass.

      1. Okay those people are “conservatives.” Perhaps they are “progressive” relative to the “right-wing lunatics” who are taking over the GOP, but come on. When Karl Rove is considered a moderate, things have gotten really fucked up.

        1. True if you only are capable of defining a person’s politics in terms of left/right. Moderate only means anything relative to what else is going on.

        2. Karl Rove isn’t a moderate, he’s a sell-out. His strategy was to give on social spending but to stand firm on social issues. Candidates could continue to oppose abortion, but were okay with prison programs as long as faith-based providers were allowed to apply for funding. Candidates could continue to damn Lawrence v. Texas, but would favor expanding education spending as long as there were ‘success metrics’ included. He tried to pander to two bases: traditional Republican conservatives, and socially conservative moderates. The strategy failed. Progressives still think of him as an evil genius, I only support the first half of that clause.

    3. YOU guys and the tea party are defined by your lack of awareness of the existence of the 20th century, at least the one that occurred in this universe. You’re useless.

      I’m certainly aware of the Great Terror, fascism, Nazism, socialism, and communism. I’m also familiar with the difference in economic outcomes between North and South Korea, West and East Germany, Taiwan and the PRC, Thailand and Cambodia, etc. It seems to me that those largely are the story of the 20th century and there are lessons to be learned from those, but it’s not clear that you think so. Ah well.

      1. Okay, given democracy and capitalism, which I think we all agree on, all the good things of the 20th century were done by progressives.

        1. Eugenics? The Sedition Act of 1918? Racial quotas? Communism? Public-employee unions? The income tax? I guess it depends on your definition of “good things.”

        2. Eugenics? The Sedition Act of 1918? Racial quotas? Communism? Public-employee unions? The income tax? I guess it depends on your definition of “good things.”

          1. Oops, my mouse finger twitched during the post….

            1. Admit it, you were thinking “trigger finger”.

          2. Other than unions and the income tax, those aren’t progressive programs. And yes I think unions and the income tax are good things.

            And what’s with this “public sector” crap? Admit it, you guys only say that because you can’t come up with a good libertarian reason to be against private sector unions, even though you don’t like them because your corporate masters don’t like them. But why, again, shouldn’t public sector employees be allowed to unionize? (Not claiming they are perfect, btw.)

            1. Racial quotas and communism aren’t progressive programs?

            2. If one doesn’t like private sector unions, one is free to shop elsewhere. That is not the case with public sector unions. We’ve gone over this about a thousand times.

            3. All those things were pushed by progressives.

              Public-sector unions make bureaucracy even more bureaucratic and inflexible. They take organizations with monopoly power and put the workers under another monopoly power. They then use their power to elect politicians to increase their power and wages and benefits until the government goes broke. As you can see happening everywhere, right now.

            4. I have nothing against unions, provided:

              1) As a worker, I am not coerced into joining a union or paying dues into one. And yes, I do understand (I already hear your keys clattering) that I am not entitled to any union benefits if I declined to join/pay.

              2) Employers are not coerced into negotiating with them, either by union violence or by government violence.

            5. If you don’t like the phrase “public sector”, how about “government sector”?

            6. Public sector unions are uniquely problematic because public sector managers, unlike their private sector counterparts, do not have to compete in a marketplace. Accordingly, they have no market incentive to push back against unions’ extravagant demands, and a strong political incentive to accede to those demands in the interests of buying a constituency.

          3. Military interventions through Latin America and the USSR?

            The First Red Scare?

            A secret police that arrested citizens in their own homes?

        3. Tell me again what part Progressives played in inventing jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, radio, TV, video games, the birth control pill, Viagra, jet travel, paperback books, sushi bars, ’66 Mustangs with pony interiors, monster truck rallies, etc.

          You did say the “good things of the 20th century”.

          1. They did ban alcohol, which led to moonshine, which created bootleggers, who created NASCAR.

            1. I now welcome our progressive masters.

    4. It’s is interesting that someone who can construct coherent sentences and say such stupid things with them.

    5. Recursive Troll Slap:

      It’s no fun picking on Brooks Toni anymore! It’s like teasing the slow kid or shooting dairy cattle with a hunting rifle….just no sport in it!

    6. “Progressive conservatism” does sound like an oxymoron to me. But I don’t understand why you’re bothering us about it; it’s not our doing.

    7. “What the fuck is progressive conservatism?”

      Fascism. (In the literal sense, not the pejorative one).

    8. Come on, Tony. You have to admit that there is at least the possibility that doing nothing might, in many cases, be better than doing something.

    9. Progressive conservative = Neocon = Statist Liberal Upset by Sex, Drugs, and Rock n’ Roll

    10. What the fuck is progressive conservatism? Big government for Jesus? I don’t get it.

      Neoconservativism.

      But then again, you guys have defined neoconservativism not with what actual neoconservatives believed but based on something you guys reject.

  11. It’s no fun picking on Brooks anymore! It’s like teasing the slow kid or shooting dairy cattle with a hunting rifle….just no sport in it!

    1. Shooting fish in a barrel?

      1. Has anyone ever actually shot into a barrel? I’ve never done it with fish in the barrel, but it’s fun. Watching the big fountains of water everywhere? Good times, man, good times.

  12. Conservatism as I understand it

    There’s your trouble…

  13. These people think their intentions are all the incentives required to produce results.

    They seem to have no comprehension of inherent systemic incentives.

  14. 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.

    Another thing these short-sighted morons don’t see is that it isn’t enough to consider the cost of building these big projects. They all cost lots of money to maintain as well, a cost that’s always ignored or deliberately downplayed. The examples he cited are still draining the treasury.

  15. “Emerging suburban civilization”

    Please God, please send the Flood again.

    1. Barbarians. They can sweep into the inner cities and take out the bums and the hipsters, then move out to the burbs and whack the soccer moms and enslave the little brats that are left behind.

      1. Don’t discount the power of barbarian hordes. Hell, they’re probably the reason we aren’t all Muslim right now.

  16. i never heard of that clown until i started reading H&R. from the sound of him, he’d fit right in w/ that other newspaper asshat named Friedman who somehow manages to grace* this blog from time to time.

    *shit all over it

  17. Can’t believe you people still converse with an obvious troll. Not even Brooks or Krugman bats with a one hundred percent strike out record, but Tony does and why is that? He is playing you.

      1. Because he’s a proxy for all the idiots walking around who actually believe that shit (and some of us can’t afford to call out all the idiots because we like our jobs).

  18. All in all, governments can’t promote future prosperity because they are strangling on their own self-indulgence.

    Fixed.

    1. “All in all, governments can’t promote future prosperity ”

      And they’ve had nothing to do with creating any past prosperity either.

  19. Help!

    I’m trapped in a barrel! Put that gun away! Take me to the River!

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