Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

America’s unexceptional nanny state

Anti-Americans and American superpatriots fervently agree: The US of A is exceptional because it doesn’t have a European-style welfare state.
The myth of America’s limited government and self-reliant middle class is robust and influential. Its moral virtue and its very survival will mobilize millions of Republicans this fall. Also, it is an article of loathing amongst Canadians who’d shudder at the idea of doing politics with such people in a united federation.

America may be an incompetent parent. However, its nanny state is easily as financially demanding as those of its affluent critics. The Economist’s review of Bruce Bartlett’s latest book The Benefit and the Burden: Tax—Why We Need It and What It Will Take notes: 

“Mr. Bartlett’s critique of America’s tax system is that it creates a deceptive picture of the influence of government, and is far too costly. On revenues as a share of GDP, America’s government looks small relative to its European peers. The difference is illusory. European health spending shows up on the government’s ledgers whereas America’s tax preferences for health insurance do not. But the government intervention is there all the same. In 2012 the deduction for employer-provided insurance cost some $434 billion, or roughly 3% of GDP. Include these “tax expenditures” in the budget, Mr. Bartlett says, and America’s state looks as bloated as any in Europe. Net social spending rises to 27.2% of GDP—above the level in Italy and Denmark and higher than the OECD average.”

Ronald Reagan got laughs for years joking about the guy from the government who’d say “I’m here to help.” In fact, since the Great Recession, Americans have been highly responsive—with their votes and tax dollars—to the promise of a helping hand from the state. 

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