OUR OPINION: Why the New Deal is not going away
Woodrow Wilson started it all, says Glenn Back and a number of other Tea Party conservatives. That's where the demon seed of progressivism got planted -- during Wilson's two terms, 1913-1921. That's when the 16th Amendment got passed, letting Con...
Woodrow Wilson started it all, says Glenn Back and a number of other Tea Party conservatives.
That's where the demon seed of progressivism got planted -- during Wilson's two terms, 1913-1921.
That's when the 16th Amendment got passed, letting Congress collect the modern income tax. That's when the 17th Amendment got passed, letting voters choose U.S. senators directly.
That's when the Federal Reserve System came into being.
And the rest -- FDR's New Deal, LBJ's Great Society and so on -- is sad 20th century history.
But is it?
People who'd like to tear out progressivism root and branch and return us to, say, 1910 have a problem: Precious few Americans want to go back to 1910. That's because life in 2010 is immeasurably better than life in 1910 -- and not only in terms of labor-saving technologies, a remarkable number of which got invented in supposedly socialist America.
No, what sets 2010 apart from 1910 results in some large measure from the actions of government. And by "government," remember, we're not talking about left-wing or right-wing dictatorships. We're talking about lawful policies enacted by freely elected representatives and upheld in large part by the Supreme Court.
What have these efforts brought about?
Well, food is reliably safe, for one thing. Read "The Jungle" for a taste of meatpacking conditions circa 1906. Retirees have Social Security pensions, modest but guaranteed.
Public schools, for all their faults, have generated a broadly educated population. In 1900, only 51 percent of 5- to 19-year-olds were students in any school at all. In North Dakota and Minnesota, farm programs helped build a stable and relatively prosperous ag industry. Farm prices collapsed in 1920 and didn't recover for 20 years.
Environmental rules. Child labor laws. Civil rights protections. Public health measures. Unemployment insurance. Compulsory vaccinations against smallpox and polio, both now virtually unknown.
The list goes on. Why would Americans want to turn the clock back?
Reform or modify the policies, absolutely. For example, the Medicare program is becoming too expensive. So, conservative Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, has a plan: Give seniors a voucher with which they can buy their own health insurance. That way, seniors will assume more of the risk and cost of the insurance, but the program can be continued over the long term.
And that's important. After all, judging by every election and poll result of the past several generations, few Americans want to return to 1910. That includes Ryan, who recognizes Social Security and Medicare's immense value and wants them on a stronger footing so they can be sustained.
What Beck and others who favor the early 20th century ignore is the quality of life in the 21st. That dismissal has real-world consequences, consequences that showed up as recently as last month.
Why are Republicans still in the minority in the U.S. Senate? Because voters rejected Republican arch-conservative candidates, including Joe Miller (unemployment compensation is "not constitutionally authorized," Miller said during the campaign), Sharron Angle (who had to explain what she meant when she said, "We need to phase Medicare and Social Security out") and Christine O'Donnell (who claimed "America is now a socialist economy.")
There is a trade off between equality and efficiency, as economics explains. That means as economic equality goes up, economic efficiency -- robust, free-market efficiency -- goes down.
What political parties must remember is that Americans don't want either extreme. They certainly don't want the communist "equality" of North Korea, but they also don't want the hyperefficiency of a purely capitalist state.
No safety net? No food stamps? No old-age benefits?
No, thanks. And if it takes some reasonable level of taxation and some modest sacrifice of efficiency to avoid that world, then that's a small price to pay.