I agree with Arthur Brooks in this WSJ article, though I wish he would be more particular with solutions:
I’m often asked if I think America is trending toward becoming a European-style social democracy. My answer is: “No, because we already are a European-style social democracy.” From the progressivity of our tax code, to the percentage of GDP devoted to government, to the extent of the regulatory burden on business, most of Europe’s got nothing on us.
In 1938—the year my organization, the American Enterprise Institute, was founded—total government spending at all levels was about 15% of GDP. By 2010 it was 36%. The political right can crow all it wants about how America is a “conservative country,” unlike, say, Spain—a country governed by the Spanish Socialist Workers Party for most of the past 30 years. But at 36%, U.S. government spending relative to GDP is very close to Spain’s. And our debt-to-GDP ratio is 103%; Spain’s is 68%.
How can this be the case? Brooks offers three reasons. The second of these I find the most important:
The second force leading us down the social-democratic road is cronyism. America possesses a full-time bipartisan political apparatus dedicated to government growth and special deals for favored individuals and sectors. For example, the farm bill that just passed the Senate contains around $100 billion in subsidies, mostly for large, corporate farms that do nothing to improve nutrition or food security. Or witness the recently reauthorized Export-Import Bank, which doles out about $20 billion annually in corporate welfare.
This means, however, that many forces perceived as “pro business” are actually socialist to a large degree. Many Republicans, “conservatives,” and “conservative organizations” fall into this category. They want government handouts, assurances, insurance, privileges, etc. They want to maintain government force to maintain their economic advantages.
This includes not only big corporations and their big lobbies, but also many “pro business” organizations such as chambers of commerce. Too often, all of these act as political levers to steer government funds toward policies that favor their members and benefactors. But it’s just as much socialism as it is when the left takes the money for its programs and purposes.
And it happens at all levels of government: federal, state, and local. This type of corruption is rampant.
Leftists like to justify their socialism with compassion. Conservatives do it with things like “creating jobs” and “economic growth.”
Conservatives, however, add the extra hypocritical measure of calling their self-enriching, socialistic schemes “free market capitalism” and “free enterprise.”
The only possible orderly solution is something close to what Brooks concludes:
What is the answer? We caught a glimpse of it in 2010, when a movement of ethical populism—the tea party—mobilized millions of Americans to read the United States Constitution and demand politics that reflect the majority’s values. And while woefully misguided in its diagnoses and policy solutions, the Occupy Wall Street movement was at least right to protest the malignant cronyism in our economy. That energy must re-emerge in 2012 and become a permanent part of our political landscape.
But such a solution, I dare to say, necessarily excludes both Obama and Romney. As far as Constitution and cronyism are concerned, a vote for Romney is a vote for Obama, and a vote for Obama is a vote for Romney.
Only one major candidate embodies both the return to a bare-constitutional level of freedom (at least a step in the right direction, from here anyway) and the critique of corporate cronyism and welfare that Brooks speaks of, and that’s Ron Paul.
The Liberty movement must continue to push. There is still hope—in many ways and means. The vision for liberty must be advanced continually and relentlessly.
And it must be advanced at every level: federal, state, and local.