Yesterday on ABC’s This Week program I heard George Will make a remark to the effect that the presidential election presented a stark choice: one candidate advocates a larger, more activist federal government and the other candidate advocates a smaller, less activist one. Would that were true! The reality is that there is little choice.
Barack Obama will never be another FDR for a very simple reason. When Roosevelt took office total government spending at all levels as a percentage of GDP was 20% or less. Now it’s 39% or more. Simply stated Obama can’t make the dramatic changes to the shape of government in the United States that Franklin Roosevelt did because there’s just no room to do it in.
I think it’s self-evident that there’s some level of government spending at which the smart money is targeted in one way or another at manipulating the government rather than real entrepeneurialism and innovation. That can be by lobbying or influencing elections or just by investing in areas of the economy that are subsidized by the government. In my view we’ve already passed that level whatever it may be and increasing government’s role will only aggravate an already deteriorating situation.
Mitt Romney is not a bit better. The federal government can pretty much be summarized as transfer payments to pay pensions, income subsidies for healthcare providers, defense spending, interest on the debt, and everything else (with “everything else” being about 10% of the whole). Gov. Romney has an MBA from Harvard. Whatever he says in stump speeches he can tell a larger segment from a smaller one and optimization must focus on where there’s something to optimize. Of course the smallest 10% might be optimized a bit but there are no big savings in that direction. Gov. Romney has already expressed his determination not to reduce defense spending and there is no realistic prospect for his reducing the other segments of the pie, certainly not in the near term and probably not ever.
I would continue this post with a detailed comparison of the two candidates’ foreign policies but it would just depress me. President Obama’s foreign policy is incoherent. When you have reached the point that the only achievable objective in a military operation is withdrawal, continuing the operation is morally bankrupt. We are at that point now and have been for some time. Gov. Romney’s foreign policy is much the same as President Obama’s except that he promises to spend more, do whatever he does more forcefully, and aggravate people who can actually do something about it rather than people who can’t.
As I say, it’s just too depressing.