The Purpose of Conservative Macroeconomic “Policy”

Mark Thoma:

There clearly is a class of people willing to sacrifice the livelihood and well-being of others in pursuit of their ideological goal of a smaller government (so long as their own future remains secure). The notion of “expansionary austerity” was the cover, but so long as government shrinks as a result of the policy, the expansionary part is secondary. If reducing the size of government slows the recovery, that’s a small price to pay for such a worthy goal — for them anyway, the power behind this is in no danger of becoming unemployed. The main thing is to impose the small government ideology whenever there is a chance, and to use whatever argument is needed to serve that purpose, austerity is expansionary, tax cuts pay for themselves — whatever works — the ideologues will even embrace Keynesian economics if it allows them to argue for tax cuts that might further “starve the beast” (e.g. see Bush’s argument for the first round of his tax cuts). But in the end the goal is a simple one, reduce the size and influence of government, and everything else is just a means of getting there.

This always gets me scratching my head.  Tell me again why a smaller government is magically better?


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19 thoughts on “The Purpose of Conservative Macroeconomic “Policy”

    1. I don’t think using the size of government as an economic measure is appropriate. I think government should be the size it is based on the services the citizens require of it. One way to think of it, as one economist put it, the federal government is, for the most part, an insurance company with an army.

      In general, the conservative obsession with the size of government used to be a fear of “crowding out” of the private sector. But in reality, the desire to strip the government of services was to funnel funds from public coffers to private industry on the false belief that the private sector is ever and always more efficient. It’s not.

  1. When conservatives complain about big government they usually aren’t including the military, the prison system or the burgeoning police state in their calculations. They include only those aspects of government that provide services to the non-rich “feeders” of society. They complain about regulations that the peoples’ government has put in place to prevent the strip-mining of society by the economic oligarchs. It bothers them that the unemployed, disabled and poor aren’t allowed to starve in the streets.

    The right-wing ideologues want to suppress the teaching of evolution because it contradicts their simple minded religious beliefs but are still fervent believers in Social Darwinism. They see Democracy as a tool for establishing their dictatorship over lesser citizens. They wish to limit our right to vote and to belong to unions and expect those who are designated as second class citizens to just accept it. They are outraged when ordinary citizens fight back and yet it is their own exclusionary belief system which leads to social conflict. What country do they think they live in?

  2. I think the federal government should be involved in two things and only two things. Currency and the Military. States and local communities should handle the rest. That’s what the founding fathers wanted.

    1. Call Ripley’s Believe It Or Not! We’ve found a genuine psychic who speaks to the dead! He knows what the founding fathers wanted…


      That is, of course, not true. The “founding fathers” were not monolithic in their beliefs. Some believed in a smaller, weaker federal government, others wanted a stronger federal government.

      The reality is, we don’t live in 1787.

      1. I can assure you they ALL are rolling over in their graves at how incredibly out of control the federal government has become. More importantly, how utterly ineffective it has become at solving the problems it throws so much money at. ie, education, drugs, nation building. They would be absolutely appalled at our hundreds of military bases around the world and what we have done to our currency.

        1. I’m always amazed when people make claims for what the “founding fathers” would say, think or feel and then never provide any evidence in support of their biases.

          It’s equally remarkable that they treat a group of 12 or so men as if they thought in lockstep like the modern conservatives who pretend to know what these 18th century Enlightenment thinkers actually thought. The fetishism of the “founding fathers” is always something I marvel at.

          JB is no different than the rest of the know-nothing modern conservative movement, I suppose…

          1. how about you respond to my points about how I think that it is reasonable that they might be dismayed at the state of the federal government as it exists today. Do you deny that? That’s not even a partison argument!

            1. Because it will just be an argument between opinions.

              Your Opinion: “they might be dismayed at the state of the federal government as it exists today”

              My Opinion: they would simply love how things are going.

              What’s the point? It’s a waste of my time.

              1. correct. And one of us is more wrong than the other. Speculating on who that is is what we are doing. In your heart you think or like to think that they would approve of bigger government. And I think they would not and there is more indications that this was the case.

                1. In your heart

                  WTF? My heart pumps blood… My brain does the thinking. And you know what my brain is telling me because I’ve already said it.

                  Neither you nor I know what Thomas Jefferson would think about the American government of today. Anyone who says they do, is telling you a fairy tale. You can guess and make an argument for one way or another, but nobody really knows what Jefferson would really say.

            2. I’ll bite. As has been pointed out, there was a divide amongst the Founders and they rarely agreed unanimously. However I agree with you, they would be Unanimously dismayed at the state of our Federal Government as it stands today.

              Unanimously they would be disgusted in how much we privatize our government, they would be abhorred at the quantity and influence of lobbyists in our government, they would be amazed that people who contribute nothing to society (wall st) have so much influence, they would have utter disgust at the fact that someone like Erik Prince could go from Bankruptcy to billionaire by profiting off war and our troops. They would be in awe of the fact that it takes millions of dollars to win a senate seat that pays $170/k yr.

              I think I can be safe in saying that Washington, Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Paine, Hancock, Franklin, etc… would all get together, grab Bernie Sanders go for a beer and ask him how in the hell he could put up with such fools.

          2. no reason to speculate about the founding father’s intentions. Just read the constitution.

    2. Erroneous. If you’d read the Constitution, you’d know the founding fathers wanted government involved in the following:

      • To establish Post Offices and post Roads;
      • To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries;
      • To constitute Tribunals inferior to the supreme Court;
      • To define and punish Piracies and Felonies committed on the high Seas, and Offences against the Law of Nations;

      Article 1, Section 8….try reading the Constitution sometime, then come back and try again.

  3. The Founding Fathers actually didnt really want the government involved in a standing military because they knew the dangers of fully functioning standing army in times of peace.

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