Is More Government Really the Answer?

by on August 11th, 2007

National Review Online editor-at-large Jonah Goldberg’s piece in USA Today documents the skillful way in which modern liberals are in a makeover mode, calling themselves “progressives” or “populists”–anything but the “L” word.

That the word “liberal” is closely associated with an abiding reliance on government to solve problems, with taxation, high regulation, and a frosty disdain for military action, is abundantly obvious, so much so that its strongest advocates are taking an entirely new political tack to describe their platform. But, just how different is it?

If we stipulate that the goal of liberalism is the acquisition and retention of power, an expanded footprint for government is its modus operandi. Indeed, listen to the Democratic presidential candidates’ stump speeches and you’ll hear a nearly limitless litany of what they want to do for us. Whether it’s universal health care or closing the income gap, they salivate at the market place’s imperfections because the most prominent feature of contemporary culture is its hair-trigger response to perceived inequality.

Avoiding the untidy task of understanding that disparate efforts and talent are the primary causes for differences in income, that bureaucratic interventions to expand health care access are foredoomed, or that government programs designed to correct flawed child-rearing practices ought to begin by providing strong disincentives for people inclined to have children they can’t support, the goal of the “progressives” reflects an unwarranted faith in the efficacy of government.

But, beyond its utter inability to produce results, we feel compelled to ask a deeper question: Is more government better? Is transferring responsibility to the government that is rightfully ours truly healthy for our civic well-being? Isn’t it the case that when we make mistakes, what the left characterizes as the cruel and unforgiving response of the market place, is actually a superb teacher?

And, therein lies the rub: The modern liberal–or progressive–is determined to eliminate the consequences of what we might kindly call sub-optimal judgment because although they themselves have successfully negotiated through life’s shoals, they don’t believe you’re capable of doing so. That’s particularly the case if you happen to be a woman, a minority, or some other selectively protected class.

A conference on this subject, sponsored by the Cato Institute, was recently on CSPAN, and it perfectly highlighted the supreme irony this: To wit, New York Times columnist David Brooks, a studiously moderate–read liberal–Republican, made the case for Head Start as a remedy to dysfunctional homes. Other programs were also discussed, but the message was that government-sponsored programs can and ought to play an important role in the mitigation of social problems.

Never once during the lengthy discussion did anyone mention the importance of fostering strong, two-parent households as the best guarantor of educable children. Indeed, the modern progressive is no more capable of rendering judgments than his liberal predecessor and unless we reinstitute the cultural disincentives that actually stigmatize aberrant family structures such as single-parent households, no government program, regardless of how well funded, will make any appreciable difference.

Mella is Editor of

Philip Mella