The American Enterprise Institute was founded in 1938 by a group of business leaders who were concerned that government at all levels was consuming or transferring about 15% of the country’s gross domestic product. Today, government at all levels is consuming more than twice that, about 35% of GDP–more than a third of what Americans produce.
So what hope is there today for advocates of constitutionally-limited government?
AEI’s Michael Barone offers some thoughts on the matter in a new ebook, “Can Big Government Be Rolled Back?,” available for no cost from the AEI Press. Contra historians who have argued that government growth is subject to a ratchet effect, or is subject to cycles of growth and decline, Barone examines a number of cases throughout the twentieth century in which conservatives were able to slow the speed of government’s growth and, in some cases, roll back the tide.
Of particular interest is Michael’s first conclusion:
“One lesson is that those who wish to reverse public policies must be prepared to act, and to act rapidly. They need not just general ideas but also specific policies that legislative action or executive authority can put in place. The 1920s Republicans were well prepared with budget reorganization and tax cut policies, for example. The Republican Congress elected in 1946 similarly had a clear and specific agenda for 1947. The Reagan policy team was very well prepared, thanks to David Stockman’s deep and detailed knowledge of the budget, and acted with great swiftness. The Gingrich Republicans in 1994 had their Contract with America agenda, but also moved ahead with detailed budget and welfare reform legislation.”
Michael is certainly correct that it’s important to have a good grasp on the specifics of policy. I would add that it’s also important to be able to make the case for these policies not just on material grounds, but on moral grounds as well. How do limited government policies help strengthen the social safety net, create opportunity for the next generation, and reinforce our culture of individual initiative?