“Make America Great Again” v. “Make America Europe”

In the media, the midterms are all about Trump. That is not surprising. For Trump, most everything is about Trump, and he has the bully pulpit. Moreover, some people sincerely regard the President as an existential threat to democracy, and thus this election must focus on checking his power.

For friends of liberty who do not agree with the latter proposition, as I do not, this election is an important one for the enduring issue of politics: the size and reach of government. The parties are as far apart on this question in my lifetime. And that is not sadly because the Republicans have become a more consistently limited government party. Far from it. The worst effect of Trump has been to take off the table plans for reining in our burgeoning entitlements and to add to government regulation through restrictions on trade.

But if Republicans are less consistent in favor of small government, the Democrats have lurched to embrace bigger government than ever before. Many are running on the slogan of Medicare for all, which would inevitably lead to far greater government control of a large part of the American economy. Many also run on providing free college for all, which would be enormously expensive. And if the Republicans have made no progress in reforming entitlements, many Democrats want to increase them by raising Social Security payouts. Candidates obviously don’t emphasize the taxes that would be required to pay for these schemes, but if implemented, the United States would no longer be a relatively low tax nation in the industrialized world. And their program goes beyond increases in spending to new kinds of regulation, mandating maternity and paternity leave and passing laws that would require bureaucrats to decide whether female dominated professions add as much value as male dominated ones.

Thus, if the Republicans are relegated to running on the President’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” the Democrats’ implicit slogan is “Make America Europe.” Their program would transform the United States to resemble much more closely European welfare states.

I have long thought that political campaigns should engage in more cross-country comparisons, because democratic nation states, like the states themselves, are laboratories of democracy. And the results of European style policies have not been pretty for Europe. They have lower growth rates and far less innovation than the United States. A nation like France—which like the United States is now a multicultural one—is poorer than our poorest state. Almost all the innovation in computation-driven businesses has come in the United States, for instance. It is not hard to see how a low-tax, low-welfare state creates an entrepreneurial and innovative culture, whereas the large welfare state deadens initiative.

And the comparison is even less favorable to Europe than the raw numbers suggest. Europe free-rides on the United States defense umbrella and on United States innovation in sectors like pharmaceuticals. If Europeans had to pay the full cost of their own defense and live with only the innovations their economies produce, their standard of living would be even lower.

And for those who worry about populism’s threat to democracy, European welfare states don’t avoid them. Indeed, populism there may be even more virulent, because European policies are more zero-sum than those in the United States. Citizens become obsessed with protecting their entitlements against the threats from others, often defined as the Other. Economic growth, in contrast, expands the pie over time. Thus, even those who worry about Trump should be concerned about the long-term effect of his opposition’s policies. They would likely give us more Trumps of the left as well as right.

Reader Discussion

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on November 02, 2018 at 10:40:54 am

1) "...and to add to government regulation through restrictions on trade."
I suppose it could not be avoided; there must be at least one charge levied against The Trumpster in any essay at LLB.
As our fellow blogger nobody argues, 'Some regulations are good."
McGinnis succumbs to the "Free trader" mythology - when in fact trading with our "friends" is often anything but free.
Take our Canadian "friends: (Quick story)
A few years ago, during a visit to Vancouver / Victoria BC, I noticed that stores and restaurants had on offer only a rather small selection of wines and NOT A SINGLE bottle of Washington state wines was available. Now, we make some truly superb, world class wines at reasonable prices. I was informed that BC does not offer any US wines.
Under pressure, BC relented and now permits the sale of Washington state wines.
HOWEVER, those US wines on offer must be completely segregated during distribution, inventory, stocking, etc. Anyone who understands Supply Chain Logistics and Inventory management will appreciate the "barrier to entry' such conditions impose.
But that is not all:
It was also determined that the US wines MUST be shelved separately, in a distinct section of the store, sales of said wine must be totaled / transacted separately and by SEPARATE CLERK on a separate register.
Gee, that makes it quite attractive for a merchant to sell US wines.
So let us no longer delude ourselves into thinking that our 'friends' are what we WISH them to be - Free Traders!
(BTW: You should see what the French, Japanese and others do as well).
2) McGinnis is quite right about "Make America Europe."
At times, I think that too many Americans have "civilizational envy" - with civilization, in their minds being defined as anything other than American civilization. This, I think, complements the other envy that is such a principal driver of Democrat party politics / support - envy of those who have succeeded and attained a better standard of living than the railing crowds.
Heck, it is probably at root the basis for younger Americans love of "soccer" - an utterly silly and boring game, the enjoyment of which is derived from simulating the behavior of European hooligans who march to the stadium singing their teams fight songs. (One should observe these fans marching off to the Seattle sounders games. -Yikes!)
3) McGinnis ignores the efforts made by The Trumpster to reduce regulatory burdens. Has it been completely successful. Well, NO - but do we blame The Trumpster or the entrenched bureaucracy and the "ombudsman" mentality that permeates the Congress which thoroughly enjoys its newly discovered role as a dispense of favors for their constituents by navigating the Fed Admin Agencies for them.
Actually, The Trumpster has succeeded in eliminating 18 times more regulations under CRA than any of his predecessors. (Editorial note: Actually - that means only 18 regulations were rescinded as previous presidents only had one rescinded)
4) Aside from those complaints, McGinnis is correct. Overly burdened, overly regulated economies (and CULTURES) die a slow but inexorable death.

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on November 02, 2018 at 11:24:38 am

Yeah, as I said in the comments to another LLB article, Trump's tariffs seem to be directed against nations who maintain tariffs against the US, and in game theory, which is the sort of rational, faux-mathematical method that I would think most LLB writers implicitly favor over other ways of thinking, a tit-for-tat strategy is demonstrated to be a superior strategy (this statement and the one that follows assume I have remembered my long-ago acquaintance with game theory correctly). I think the reason this game theory result is being ignored is because it conflicts with one of the Articles of Faith, and in "scholarship" no less than any other religion, in the conflict between faith and reason, faith always wins.

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on November 02, 2018 at 11:56:04 am

Indeed, one cannot dismiss the *sacramental* benefits of Free Trade.

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