Sunday, May 08, 2005

Stuart Benjamin -- one of the writers for the conservative / libertarian blog The Volokh Conspiracy -- took a cue from the Cato Institute yesterday and sounded the alarm on Bush's spending increases. This isn't surprising, since many prominent conservatives have done the same, with the most notable example being David Brooks' cover story on the death of small government in the New York Times Magazine.

What's new about Benjamin's take is that he seems utterly baffled about why a larger base hasn't risen up to join the protest:

The [Cato] study suggests that united government is at least partly responsible. It notes (p. 13) that "[s]pending growth picked up steam much more quickly once Republicans gained control of the White House as well as Congress." I am sympathetic to this argument. As I noted last year, Cato President William Niskanen has written a paper demonstrating that divided government yields lower spending (and, perhaps more depressingly, that reductions in taxation produce increases in spending).

But this still leaves me with a nagging question: why aren't more small-government advocates resisting spending increases? Cato has been sounding the alarm for a while (back in March 2003, Cato published an article about Bush's spending entitled "Hey, Big Spender"), but many others have been relatively silent. Why?

Isn't the answer obvious though? Bush may have increased spending, but he's also simultaneously cut taxes -- and done so by citing almost exclusively the numbers and arguments proferred by libertarian thinktanks. As a result he's silenced his own internal opposition by meeting them half-way. Any time someone gets on him about the spending increases, all he has to say is, 'Look, I'm trying. I'm cutting taxes. Aside from the war, the rest I can't control -- just look what's happening with Social Security.'

The one question I have? How someone who is otherwise quite perceptive could be so blind to what in essence is just another instance of political compromise.

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