I found this an extremely thought provoking Bloggingheads. I thought some of the League and our readers might as well. Jeff Madrick discusses with Jim Pinkerton his new book The Case for Big Government. The first half or so when the two discuss the thesis of his book I found more interesting than the latter half discussion of the stimulus bill. Pinkerton is an interesting choice for interviewer since he’s a conservative but not in the total Friedman-ite mold (he was on Huckabee’s staff during the Republican Primary).
Undoubtedly Madrick is offering one side of a story, but it’s a side that I think is often left neglected. Or has been of late. He mentions at one point that the US around 1850 had as much public primary schooling as Prussia. Interesting fact that I didn’t know. But that needs to be teased apart a bit and a major distinction ought to be made between what Daniel Deudney calls continental republicanism and continental forms of autocracy. The US as the former, Prussia as the latter. So there’s if you like big government republicanism and big government autocracy/monarchy. Part of the genius of the US experiment was it being the first to achieve both a republican (small ‘r’) form of government across such a broad swatch of territory. [Arguably with Canada’s confederal system coming in a close second in many ways influenced by the former].
His recounting of the early American history has a great deal of truth behind it, but I wonder to what degree the history is instructive of what to do in the present. Obviously for Madrick it is an apologia for a more intelligent form of big government and a pushback against the long tradition of government bashing. I think he too quickly runs over real critiques of government in the seventies and the possibility that some forms of de-regulation (which started under Carter btw) did jump start certain economic sectors.
It seems to in the history of up to the 1960s, much of the emphasis was on infrastructure and regulatory frameworks and then during the Great Society and on there was a shift to more direct wealth transfer so that when the Reagan revolution hit, those who were opposed were able to conflate (somewhat legitimately, somewhat illegitimately imo) government regulatory and infrastructure frames with more Rawlsian welfare state money transfers and when they managed to create enough public outcry over the latter they threw out the former as well.
In that light, Madrick’s takedown of Milton Friedman and Alan Greenspan, particularly given the current economic debacle, seems particularly on target.