The "Small Government" Con
By Russell Johnson
President Trump recently announced that there would be a fifty-four-billion dollar decrease in spending on non-defense programs like foreign aid, the EPA, and domestic agencies. This is in keeping with his campaign promises about fiscal responsibility and working toward paying off the national debt. As President Trump said, "With 20 trillion dollars in debt, the government must learn to tighten its belt.” It is also in keeping with Trump’s repeated claims that President Obama’s spending was suicidally excessive, and that his administration would be leaner and do more with less.
But at the same time, Trump promised a fifty-four-billion dollar increase in the defense budget. So we won’t actually be saving any money, merely redirecting it. The fact that the numbers are the same indicates that this is a highly symbolic act, and it tells us something about the state of the two major parties in America—namely that they disagree about the shape of government, not the size.
By David Barr
Questions of capitalism and socialism, if they ever truly went away, came roaring back into the public conversation during the 2016 election. With them came misunderstandings about what these terms mean, and about American history. It seems to me that when liberals (particularly young ones) say ‘socialism’, they have something like contemporary Scandinavia in mind; open, educated, democratic, and with the highest quality of life in the world. When conservatives (especially older ones) hear ‘socialism’, they think of the USSR or North Korea: repressive, totalitarian, and with inefficient economies that collapsed under the weight of oppressive government control. This obviously leads to lots of head shaking by each group at the seemingly unreasonable beliefs of the other.
That phenomenon is certainly worth a post of its own. Right now, however, I’m just going to use the fact that many conservatives interpret 'socialism' in terms from the Cold War as an excuse to make a point about capitalism and communism. I had been pretty sure that nobody wanted to read what I've been thinking about these old Cold War debates, but they seem relevant now that it is clear that those debates still hang over our current ones. I’m now convinced that taking you on a few minutes’ excursion into the mindset of the 1950s can help bring light to our contemporary political conversations. The lesson of the Cold War, I believe, is that the capitalists and the communists were both right…about each other. Let me explain:
We recently had a chance to talk with Bert Phillips on his podcast, HearingUS. The wide-ranging interview covers many of the topics familiar to readers of this blog. We focus particularly on what we take to be common sources of disagreement and misunderstanding about religion and politics and what ethical mindsets and habits we think might help.
The podcast can be streamed here or downloaded from iTunes here.