My Big Fat Government Takeover
Rule by the Best and the Brightest
Some mistakes are so big that only smart people are tempted to make them. One is the faith in Big Government.
We'll see that in full force today, when Barack Obama gives another major address on the economy. On the generalities, there won't be much real disagreement. But at a time when many claim to see no difference between the two political parties, President Obama and his Democratic allies are making one distinction paramount: their operating assumption that bigger government is better government.
Many of the people in the Obama administration, the president included, enjoy all the credentials we associate with the best and the brightest: the right schools, the good grades, the successful careers. Alas, whether it be allocating health care or defining the kind of jobs the economy ought to create, the policies they favor suggest a strong belief that they know what's best not just for themselves, but for everyone else too.
Of course, the kind of people who are apt to push for government-imposed solutions are those who are also apt to believe they will be the ones imposing decisions, not the ones who have to live with decisions imposed by others. Sometimes that's because they enjoy the wealth that gives them escape hatches unavailable to the less affluent, such as their ability to ensure that their own children never have to set foot in a public school. Mostly, however, their trust in government reflects their confidence that they have all the answers and that it's government's job to enforce them.
What about conservatives? Don't we have confidence in our judgment and abilities? Of course we do. The difference is that we trust free citizens to make decisions about themselves—and are skeptical about government. As someone who worked inside a White House, I say you really believe government should be small when you see your friends running it.
Now, I know there are people who believe that George W. Bush was a Big Government Republican. And you can make arguments about spending and so forth. Even so, however, there's simply no comparison with the Obama administration.
That's because conservatives believe that even our smartest friend is no match for the collective wisdom of the marketplace. If we were to wake up and find that someone we knew well had been given control over some important part of the economy, the conservative would not likely think, "Everything will be fine now that Harry's in charge." Far more likely we'd be saying to ourselves, "If it weren't for his wife, Harry would be wearing red and purple socks every day—and we're giving him that kind of power?"
Mr. Obama and his team appear to be unburdened by such modesty.
Detroit is in decline because its automotive giants no longer build the kind of cars Americans want to buy? Let's have the president sack the CEO of General Motors, and then use the bailout money as leverage to appoint a car czar and get GM and Chrysler to build the kind of cars that Washington wants.
Wall Street execs are getting sweet bonuses at a time when millions of other Americans are unemployed? Well, instead of encouraging these financial concerns to pay back the Troubled Asset Relief Program monies and get the taxpayers off the hook, send in Ken Feinberg to set their salaries.
Health-care spending is inefficient? The answer is obvious: Expand the Department of Health and Human Services and give its secretary more power. Under the bill now before the Senate, for example, Kathleen Sebelius would have the authority to decide what care insurance companies could offer, who could get an abortion under a government-run plan, what prices were fair, and so on.
Of course we shouldn't draw any conclusions from an advisory task force that recently created a stir when it suggested women get fewer mammograms—and Ms. Sebelius's disavowal in the face of public heat. She pointed out that the task force does not set government policy. But at some point some government task force will—and there will be fewer ways around it.
That's government by the smart. The good news is that it doesn't seem to be selling. According to a recent poll, 57% of Americans believe government is doing things that should be left to business and individuals. Not only do most Americans object, Gallup says the opposition is the "highest such reading in more than a decade."
Today Mr. Obama is going to give us more details about the wonderful things all those smart people in Washington are going to do to help us on the economy. Maybe he would do well to take another look at all those bright lights around him. For the more he proposes government will do, the more skeptical Americans seem to be.