The Model and Ideal

In 1908, Lenin called the United States “the model and ideal of our bourgeois civilization.” He meant it as a sneer, but it was true. The humane civilization and free economy of the old American republic boasted the lowest taxes, the least regulation, the smallest government, the most entrepreneurship, and the greatest economic opportunity in the entire world.

Today, comparing America to other industrialized countries, the result is not as heartening.

From 1970 to 1989, for example, our government grew as a proportion of the economy (as measured by GDP) from 31.7% to 36.5 % – a far higher rate than most other industrial countries. The Spanish and Greek governments grew faster, but they had both been taken over by socialists.

As a result of the greedy 1980s (government greed, that is), we are about average among industrialized countries in proportional size of government. Way ahead of us are such countries as Switzerland, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia.

When we factor in 1990-91, we will look even worse, for federal spending as a percentage of GNP has grown nearly 3% since 1989, not including the cost of the Gulf war or the foreign aid associated with it.

In fact, the Bush administration is increasing spending five times as fast as Ronald Reagan did. At this pace, by the year 2,000 the size of the D.C. leviathan will put us near the bottom of the industrialized world in this key measure.

Jobs have gone up with spending. In the U.S., 15.1% of all employees work (if you will excuse the expression) for the government, an average figure for industrial countries. But in Switzerland the figure is 10.6%, and in Japan it’s 8.2 %. Japan also beats us in taxes. Americans pay, overall, 27% of their gross earnings; Japanese, 15%. Any questions about the trouble we have competing?)

In the 1970s, the U.S. bureaucracy grew at 5. 3 %, a rate higher than almost every other country in the industrialized world. But whereas most countries that ballooned their bureaucracy in the 1970s cut back on the growth rate in the 1980s, the U.S. did not. From 1979 to 1989, our government workforce grew at an average of 2.1% per year. Margaret Thatcher’s Britain cut its bureaucracy by .5% per year.

Not only did we hire more government workers, their inflation-adjusted wages went up at 2.4% per year. This compares with Germany, France, Italy, and Great Britain where bureaucrats’ salaries increased at the rate of inflation, and with Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and Canada, where their real wages fell. Even worse, the wages of our bureaucrats grew 1.6% faster than private workers’. In every other industrialized country, bureaucratic wages fell relative to the private sector.

In economic regulation, we come in behind Great Britain and New Zealand. And while most other countries are deregulating, we are re-regulating.

Our record on privatization doesn’t look good either. In the 1980s, Italy privatized six companies, Germany 11, Canada 15, France 17, New Zealand 18, and Great Britain 56. Our record was one.

By every measure, the growth of government has taken us from Lenin’s hated “model and ideal” to the mere average.

The American people are still the most freedom-conscious in the world, less ready to bow the neck to big government than the citizens of any other country. But, as the government intends, we are growing more pliable.

James P. Pinkerton, known as the libertarian on the White House staff, says the answer is “empowerment.” It sounds good, until you realize he means such programs as President Bush’s Americans With Disabilities Act, which subverts private property rights and empowers government, and the military’s affirmative-action programs, which he says show a “New Deal-like commitment” to “upward mobility for all.”

“Against big government?” an incredulous Rep. Newt Gingrich (R.-Ga.) said to former Congressman Ron Paul the other day. “Against big government? Conservatives aren’t against big government. ” It wasn’t always so, of course. In those days, in fact, Republicans wouldn’t have praised the semi-fascist New Deal, let alone sought to emulate it.

If we want to be the society Lenin hated, we’re going to have to do more than tinker around the edges of the welfare state. We’re going to have to turn Schwartzkopf loose on Capitol Hill. Now that’s my idea of a New Paradigm.

Political Theatre

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts