After decades of conservatives telling us that government is the root of all evil, it’s time to set the record straight and remind Americans of government’s real value.
The way to talk about the purpose and value of government and be persuasive is simply to tell the truth. This has been in short supply over the last generation. To the contrary, government has been demonized in much discourse. It has at least, to coin a new verb, been “skepticized.”
Trust in government now is very low. But trust in government has been falling on balance since the late 1960s and took an especially large hit in the 1970s. The nation hasn’t truly regained its confidence in it ever since. In fact, the nation has been vulnerable to mythology and misinformation that has seriously damaged America’s future.
There are many such myths, but the primary one is that any social program or any increase in government spending dampens economic growth. Liberal economists have contributed to this as well. Even MIT’s Paul Samuelson, the leading Keynesian of his day, argued that there was a trade-off between social programs and economic efficiency 60 years ago.
It is simply not true. For the genuine evidence, not the propaganda, see a book by Joel Slemrod and Jon Bakija called Taxing Ourselves, which shows the true impact of higher taxes on growth. More to the point, see Peter Lindert’s book, Growing Public, which argues that social programs often contribute to growth. There is certainly no evidence, doing cross-country comparisons, that they retard it.
Both Bakija and Lindert were at the Rediscovering Government launch conference program on March 28 in New York City, and this week we will have video of their contributions on our web site, RediscoveringGovernment.org. Lane Kenworthy, among many others who participated in the conference, also made an important point about how much people of low income in the U.S. and other rich nations depend on social programs.