October 30, 2004

Big Government Conservatism: A Lifecycle

Reading about Bush's Republican Revolution, especially his creation of big government conservatism as a major thread of the modern conservative movement. I think that a great deal of the concern that many small government conservatives and libertarians have about big government conservatism is misplaced. It, like Republican radicalism, is something that is legitimately kept in conservatism's cupboard, to be taken out when needed, but the circumstances when it is needed are very few, and far between. The last time we needed Republican radicals before their current run starting on 9/11 was back in Lincoln's day in order to defeat the scourge of slavery.

Big government conservatism is something like a live virus vaccine. Sure, it can give you the actual disease of socialism and government tyranny just like big government liberalism but this particular strain is weakened by two features that will save us, if we play things right, measurements and standards.

Measuring the results of a government program and terminating government expenditures that don't actually deliver results are probably the easiest selling offering the center-right has offered to the people in decades. Who wants to waste money when you can spend it better elsewhere? But here's the twist. If small government conservatives are right, if the libertarians are right, the number of programs that properly measured, actually deliver for the american people are very few and far between. A stringent insistence on measuring success and killing programs that fail the people is a sure ticket to a smaller government if the small government ideology actually maps well onto reality. The emergence of the evidence for such failures can take a few years but the harvest in pruned failures after that will be continual and long-lasting, a process of successful government cutting that will play out over decades.

The big government part of big government conservatism is something that is likely to die out as the measurement and accountability parts of big government conservatism strip away the self-serving lies and obfuscations propping up failed programs. That doesn't mean that small government conservatives should wait for inevitable collapses. We need to fight to make sure that programs that fail are killed, free market alternatives are given equal billing with pseudo-free market alternatives as next stage replacements, and push big-government humpty dumpty off the wall as soon as possible.

Posted by TMLutas at October 30, 2004 12:02 PM