Empiricism v. Principle
What if there’s no feasible path within the bounds of normal American democratic politics to significantly lower the level of government spending as a percentage of GDP? If we look at the world, what we see is that when people get richer, they want more welfare state. Maybe there’s nothing much we can do about that.
I’m not going to insist that that’s true. But it’s a possibility we need to think about. 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?
That’s a good question, Will.