Thursday, 11 June 2009

The Myth of Bush the Economic Libertarian

(The primary version of this blog, which includes graphics can be found at Apple's service)

A myth is being widely rep eated, a myth accepted as hard fact by many. The myth is that the administration of George W. Bush was guided by economic libertarianism. It will take more than one blog post to discuss all the reasons why Bush was very far from being economically libertarian (or libertarian in any sense). It’s highly fashionable in the US for Republicans to claim to be libertarian, and intellectually there is a quite a lot of libertarian-conservative fusionism around. This all goes back to the Goldwater Republicanism of 1960 when Barry Goldwater ran as Republican Presidential candidate on an a small government platform. In practice while some of Reagan’s economic policies could be said to have libertarian elements, conservative Republicans have not been libertarians of any kind in government, and under Bush that definitely covers economics.

It’s widely understood that Bush increased defence spending, no on could avoid noticing Bush’s commitment to spending on America’s military and expensive use of military force. That spending, and the associated national security hysteria had implications for the structure of domestic government, as in the foundation of another federal government agency, The Department of Homeland Security. However, Bush also greatly increased non-defence spending. There are various sources for this information, but Veronique de Rugy has been particularly prolific, this article for the Mercatus Center is just one example. Table 2 in the graphic at the head of this entry conveys the main point, Bush is the biggest increaser of non-defence federal spending since L. B. Johnson. Johnson along with F.D. Roosevelt is usually taken as the most left wing US President. Bush is in the all time top 3 for raising non-defence spending together with LBJ and FDR. Bush has been even more prolific in raising defence spending than Johnson who himself was far more prolific than Reagan, which would surprise many. Non-defence spending has gone on new federal programs like No Child Left Behind in education and a new federal entitlement for drug prescription costs aimed at the retired. Foreign aid also greatly increased. It’s all very very far from widespread assumptions about Bush the brutalist libertarian casting the poorest into the streets.

Rugy herself explains in a roundtable available in audio-visual and audio formats at that she had very good access to the Bush administrator as did many other libertarian analysts, but their advice was completely ignored.

The reference I make to the work of Rugy does not mean I endorse her overall views. I’m not sure about what place she occupies on the libertarian spectrum, but she looks more conservative-libertarian fusionist and anti-welfarist than any position I would advocate. What she shows about federal spending under Bush needs to be known in order to understand the reality of the Bush administration.

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