Mises Daily

Republicans and Big Government

George W. Bush’s State of the Union address must have baffled anyone who voted for him based on his pledge to cut the size of government. That speech has been properly and efficiently pilloried by Joseph Stromberg, Alan Bock, and others. The speech was both Wilsonian and Clintonian, which is to say that it proposed a political solution for all human problems and backed this idea with a promise of massive increases in federal spending on just about everything.

But should we really be so surprised? Contrary to popular myth, every Republican president since and including Herbert Hoover has increased the federal government’s size, scope, or power--and usually all three. Over the last one hundred years, of the five presidents who presided over the largest domestic spending increases, four were Republicans. Include regulations and foreign policy, as well as budgets approved by a Republican Congress, and a picture begins to emerge of the Republican Party as a reliable engine of government growth.

Herbert Hoover

  • Increased federal spending 38 percent (current dollars)
  • Passed the Agricultural Marketing Act (welfare for farmers)
  • Passed the Hawley-Smoot Tariff
  • Waged war on drugs (alcohol)
  • Passed the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (pork and corporate welfare)
  • Passed massive tax increases

Dwight Eisenhower

  • Increased federal spending 30 percent
  • Created Department of Health, Education, & Welfare (and spending)
  • Put Earl Warren and William Brennan on Supreme Court
  • Helped install Shah Pahlevi in Iran (smart, real smart)
  • Extended Socialism Security to 10 million additional persons
  • Started American involvement in Vietnam
  • Passed federal highway legislation
  • Created NASA
  • Started student loan program (aka, program to raise college tuition so no one can afford it)
  • Kept federal counterfeiting to a minimum, causing you to lose only 9 cents off your 1952 dollar(Source: The Inflation Calculator)

Richard Nixon

  • Increased federal spending 70 percent
  • Created EPA, OSHA, and CPSC
  • Started “affirmative action”
  • Imposed price and wage controls
  • Made your 1968 dollar worth just 78 cents by the time he left office
  • Proposed minimum national income

Gerald Ford

  • Knocked 8 cents off your dollar in just two years [He didn’t WIN (Whip Inflation Now]
  • Increased federal spending throughout term
  • Reduced spending on federal prisons by pardoning Nixon
  • Overall, not too bad for a Republican and better than...

Ronald Reagan

  • Increased federal spending 53 percent
  • Elevated Veteran’s Administration
  • Added 250,000 civilian employees
  • Created drug czar’s office
  • Escalated war on drugs
  • “Saved” Social Security by increasing payroll tax
  • Lowered the value of your 1980 dollar to 73 cents

George Herbert Walker Bush

  • Increased federal spending 12 percent
  • Signed the (litigious) Americans with Disabilities Act
  • Managed to knock 13 cents off the value of your dollar in just four years
  • Just said “Yes” to new taxes

Republican Congress

  • Held your dollar’s loss in value to a mere 11 cents[Newt and the (1995-2000) gang]
  • Increased federal spending and taxes collected each year
  • Eviscerated ancient right of Englishmen and Americans--habeas corpus
  • Flunked the acid test of economic sanity--raising the minimum wage (mandatory unemployment law)
  • Passed Freedom to Farm Act (at taxpayers’ expense, that is)

George Bush II continues this inglorious tradition.He proposes a huge increase in defense spending: “My budget includes the largest increase in defense spending in two decades, because while the price of freedom and security is high, it is never too high: whatever it costs to defend our country, we will pay it.”

“Never too high” is a good description of the federal budget under Republican presidents. “Defend our country” is a prevarication. We all know the purpose of the defense budget is to maintain a global military empire--the same thing, by the way, that stirs up terrorism and is a magnet for terrorist hatreds.

Yes, all this new spending was spurred on by the events of September 11. First, by all accounts, we already have the strongest military in the world. Why expand it? If we need more troops at home, there are plenty doing nothing guarding Japan, a country with no enemies. Second, there is always a crisis that justifies an increase in spending. If there isn’t a real crisis, they will invent one or provoke one. The point is, if you really “trust the people, not the government,” you will respond to crises by supporting more individual freedom and less government.

Third, the world did not begin on September 11. Our 104-year-old policy of global intervention has made many enemies. What is happening now is a textbook example of how government grows. Government intervenes into some aspect of life, domestic or foreign, where it doesn’t belong. It screws it up good, creates problems that would not otherwise exist, and then uses its powerful propaganda machine to disguise the true cause of the problem and convince people that even more government action is required. To paraphrase Ludwig von Mises, government creates its own demand.

Now for the welfare part of the welfare/warfare state. Lyndon Johnson was less interested in fighting a socialist state abroad than he was in creating a socialist state at home, but he fought the Vietnam War anyway to appear tough on communism, protect his right flank, and stay in power. Bush is the opposite. These days, Bush is focused on foreign policy. But to win in ‘04, he must protect his left flank and dole out the welfare. So, he recently said:

I support extending unemployment benefits and direct assistance for health care coverage. We need to prepare our children to read and succeed in school with improved Head Start and early childhood development programs. We must upgrade our teacher colleges and teacher training and launch a major recruiting drive with a great goal for America: a quality teacher in every classroom. Americans know economic security can vanish in an instant without health security. I ask Congress to join me this year to enact a Patients’ Bill of Rights, to give uninsured workers credits to help buy health coverage, to approve an historic increase in spending for veterans’ health, and to give seniors a sound and modern Medicare system that includes coverage for prescription drugs.

Even FDR would be blushing at this point in the speech.

Bush doesn’t neglect welfare for the heartland, either. He promises to ask Congress “to enact new safeguards for 401(k) and pension plans, because employees who have worked hard and saved all their lives should not have to risk losing everything if their company fails.” I don’t know what that means, but once government gets its foot in the door, you know it is going to make matters worse and end up socializing all pensions. Bush promises a “productive farm policy.” I don’t know what that means, either, but I know my pocket is going to be picked somewhere along the line. The only productive farm policy is, of course, laissez-faire.

Those who support small-”r”, Jeffersonian republican government would agree with some of the words spoken by the president: “Evil is real, and it must be opposed. . . . Rarely has the world faced a choice more clear or consequential. . . . We choose freedom and the dignity of every life.”

Libertarian republicans believe this; conservative Republicans do not, never have, and never will. They are having too much fun down there in Washington running their domestic and global empires.


All Rights Reserved ©
Image Source: commons.wikimedia.org
What is the Mises Institute?

The Mises Institute is a non-profit organization that exists to promote teaching and research in the Austrian School of economics, individual freedom, honest history, and international peace, in the tradition of Ludwig von Mises and Murray N. Rothbard. 

Non-political, non-partisan, and non-PC, we advocate a radical shift in the intellectual climate, away from statism and toward a private property order. We believe that our foundational ideas are of permanent value, and oppose all efforts at compromise, sellout, and amalgamation of these ideas with fashionable political, cultural, and social doctrines inimical to their spirit.

Become a Member
Mises Institute