Will Wilkinson: What If We Can’t Make Government Smaller? – Niskanen Center

Folks on the right need to consider the possibility that we’ve been wrong to see demand for government as the sort of dependent variable that can be manipulated through education or propaganda or political organizing or too-clever-by-half fiscal policy gymnastics or far-fetched constitutional amendments. The only variable the level of government spending clearly and reliably responds to over the long run is GDP per capita, and the relationship goes the wrong way. When people get richer, they want more welfare state. You can want Americans to get continuously wealthier and also want the government to consume a smaller share of national economic output, but there’s very little reason to think you can have both of those things. That is what the world is telling us.

What if we listened? What if we accepted this and took it really seriously?

I think accepting that it’s probably not possible to shrink government would have a transformative effect on right-leaning politics. We would focus on figuring out the best ways to match receipts to outlays without getting distracted by half-baked ONE AMAZING TRICK strategies to downsize Leviathan. You start to think differently about cutting wasteful spending, consolidating redundant programs, and making the delivery of government services more efficient when you stop seeing it all as part of some master plan to drown the government in a bathtub. You start to accept that spending cuts are ultimately more about optimizing the composition and effectiveness of spending than about the overall level of spending or its rate of growth. This doesn’t mean not fighting like hell to slash nonsense programs, or not prioritizing reforms to make entitlement programs fiscally sustainable, or not trying to balance budgets from the spending side, or not trying to minimize the rate of spending growth. This just means that you do it all knowing that the rate of spending growth isn’t going to go negative unless you hit a recession, a debt crisis, or end a major war. You do it knowing that our government is already unusually small in comparative terms, and that it’s highly unlikely to contract and stay that way.

From: What If We Can’t Make Government Smaller? – Niskanen Center

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