In his speech Tuesday night (at 0:51 in this video), libertarian Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul said, “Back in the old days in the early 70s, Nixon said we’re all Keynesians now, which meant that even the Republicans accepted liberal economics. . . . I’m waiting for the day when we can say we’re all Austrians now.” He was referring to the Austrian School of Economics which teaches, among other things, the benefits of free markets.
I too am waiting for that day. Paul’s hopes (and mine) notwithstanding, it seems that day is far off. While Republicans no longer accept Keynesian economics, many have resigned themselves to a somewhat intrusive federal government. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, for example, a folk hero to many conservatives (including yours truly) has proposed reforming Medicare rather than privatizing this federal (i.e., government) program which provides health insurance coverage for the elderly.
When we talk about scaling back the size of the federal government, we may long for a federal government the size it was when John F. Kennedy took office — or when Calvin Coolidge returned to Massachusetts, but we would settle for using the FY 2007 baseline to set current spending. The more optimistic among us strive to return to the FY 2001 baseline.e. That is, even some of the most conservative among us would be content with the spending levels set by the Clinton administration (in cooperation with Republican Congresses).
Bill Clinton, in seeking to “reinvent government,” sought to reform existing federal programs and make them more efficient, a notion not unlike the entitlement reforms proposed by Ryan and some of the Republican presidential candidates. One such candidate, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman may have put forward a bold economic plan, advocating repeal of intrusive legislation passed in the Obama and Bush administrations, but the only other federal institutions he proposes abolishing are the GSEs (government-sponsored enterprises), Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which sparked “the Panic of 2008”.
In short, like Bill Clinton, we conservatives have, by and large, resigned ourselves to reinventing government (though, to be sure, we come at this resignation from the right, he from the left**). We recognize that the American people expect the state to have a considerable role in our lives, “considerable” here meaning programs created by the “progressive” reforms of the Roosevelts as well as those of the Great Society and Nixon eras, but have become increasingly wary of the more burdensome regulations of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations.
We are Clintonians in the sense that President Clinton, after the Republicans won majorities in Congress in 1994, no longer sought to expand the federal government, but to reform the programs that then existed. And Clintonians in the sense that we would be content with spending levels of the Clinton-era.
Maybe after we have succeeded in scaling back the federal government to Clinton-era levels and as more and more Americans see an increasingly vibrant private sector more efficiently providing services that some have come to expect from the state, people will want to see further reductions in the size of government.
All that said, on one level, more and more Americans have come to share the Austrian school’s appreciation of free markets. Maybe, in that sense, we are already becoming Austrians.
*save for elected Democrats, members of the Obama Administration and allied special interests. They believe we need a state larger than the one Clinton sought to reinvent.
**if the idea expressed in this parenthetical is unclear, let me know and I’ll explain.
NB: Yes, I’m aware that the Clinton administration used the Community Reinvestment Act as the basis for lending policies which eventually led to the financial crisis of 2008. Conservatives today do not favor such Clintonian policies.