Good Cop, Bad Cop: Bipartisan Failure to Control Spending

May 12, 2010 | by | Topic: Economics & Political SystemsPrint Print

Economic error knows no partisan bounds. Republican Herbert Hoover and Democrat Franklin Roosevelt both adopted foolish, harmful policies during the Great Depression. Republican George W. Bush’s stimulus plan made no sense, and neither did Democrat Barack Obama’s.

The greatest threat to our country’s future is chronic overspending by the federal government. We are racing toward national bankruptcy. Once again, bipartisan economic ignorance is the problem. Neither political party seems ready to tackle the spending problem.

This is not to say, as some do, that there are no significant differences between Republicans and Democrats. Such assertions are either intellectually lazy or an expression of extreme exasperation. That being said, neither party is sufficiently grounded in the philosophy of freedom and free enterprise to propose a freeze in government spending, much less a quantum reduction in the power and scope of government intervention into economic matters. Instead, the party of Big Government—the Republicans—and the party of Bigger Government—the Democrats—both support continued increases in federal spending.

Under the leadership of the Obama-Pelosi-Reid troika, Democrats have embarked on a reckless, dangerous spending splurge. Republicans are enjoying a resurgence of popularity by virtue of their opposition to the Democrats’ attempts to expand federal control over healthcare, energy, education, etc. But would Republicans cut spending, balance the budget, shrink government, and begin to reduce the gargantuan national debt if voters gave them the chance? I have my doubts.

We saw earlier this decade that, given majority status, Republicans went wild with earmarks and produced gushers of red ink in Washington. It seems to me that the best thing one could say about the Republicans is that they might take us down the path toward national bankruptcy more slowly than the Democrats.

What we have here is a classic case of the “good cop, bad cop” routine. In terms of controlling government spending, Republicans may seem far more pleasant for us to deal with than the other guys, but in the final analysis, they’re both part of a statist system that would curtail our economic liberty and penalize us with diminished prosperity.

We may regard Republicans as the “good cops” insofar as they seem more aware that if they redistribute wealth too rapidly, the system may collapse. However, the GOP has a long track record of redistributing wealth (some to different special interests than Democrats and some to the same but to a different extent) and they never question the fundamental legitimacy of government power trumping property rights.

Here are a few timely questions: What do Republicans want, other than to unseat Democrats? What is their vision? What are their principles? What concrete, coherent programs have Republicans offered to shrink government? What challenge are they posing to the practice of redistributing wealth?

Few Republicans talk about shrinking the leviathan state. They may talk about the need for fiscal responsibility, affordability, and slowing the growth of the state, but few question the premise that the state must continue to grow.

Economic problems abound. Weak job prospects, a shaky housing market, concerns about affordable healthcare, ongoing bank closures—take your pick, they’re all serious and large numbers of Americans are affected by each one of those problems. But the biggest, most menacing, economic problem of all—the one that jeopardizes the economic well-being of almost all of us—is reckless overspending by the federal government.

Years of unjustified and unaffordable government spending have brought us to the precipice of national bankruptcy. When investor demand for government debt falls below the bloated supply, interest rates will surge and the Fed will probably inflate like mad. We will suffer massive business failures, surging unemployment, a colossal debt implosion and/or a severely depreciated (if not utterly ruined) currency, and significantly lower standards of living.

Who got us into this parlous predicament? The facile answer for conservatives is to blame Democrats. Certainly, Democrats are not innocent in this matter. But are Republicans blameless? No. Out-of-control government spending has been a bipartisan failure.

Mark W. Hendrickson

Mark W. Hendrickson

Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.

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