Blogs > Liberty and Power > deficits

Oct 15, 2005 2:32 pm


Conservatives and right libertarians all are mindlessly sure that Democrats are more market unfriendly than Republicans, so these statistics are worth pondering:

The five largest deficits on record:

2004 — $413 billion

2003 — $378 billion

2005 — $319 billion

1992 — $290 billion

1993 — $255 billion

Only one was from a Democratic administration, and it was below the previous Republican one...

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Common Sense - 10/18/2005

George W. Bush - Worst President Ever.

Gus diZerega - 10/17/2005

I'm not sure whether there is much point to a long run study showing whether one party or the other is more pro-liberty.

So much depends on the issue. The Democrats began under Jefferson and Madison - but by the time of FDR did not resemble them much. The Republicans were consistently more anti-slavery - but also were more pro-protective tariff and also fought a war that eliminated the principle of the consent of the governed. Democrat Grover Cleveland refused to annex Hawaii - and when McKinley did so it was an act of imperialism against the wishes of the Hawaiian people. Woodrow Wilson gave us WWI and plenty of repression. The Democrats under LBJ were key to abolishing Southern segregation laws - a horrible invasion of freedom and often buttressed by murder, enforced by Southern Democrats. Many of whom (all who are still alive?) later became Republicans. American conservatives often supported the Southern Democrats, even though they called themselves Republican in their sympathies. (Think National Review.)

I do not see a long term pattern here. We would probably rank a party on how we weigh particular attacks on freedom. Those who weigh economic issues more heavily will differ from those who weigh personal liberty more heavily. What is unusual today is that the Republicans score low on EVERY measure of freedom beyond holding guns, and the Democrats are more mixed.

But I think any attempt at placing long term historical blame is mis-invested time.

I think it is wiser to realize that American political parties under the political oligopoly that dominates these days are always coalitions. Coalitions shift. Issues change. Words change their meaning over time (Goldwater and Bush both are called and call themselves conservative - but so far as I can tell, underneath the rhetoric they share next to no substantive beliefs in common.) The day may come when Republicans are more reliable defenders of liberty than Democrats - but that day is not near. It will only come if they lose power and have to re-evaluate their coalitions and beliefs.

I think libertarians should avoid identifying any party as intrinsically more
pro liberty than another. My vehement opposition to the Republicans is not because I think the Democrats are intrinsically more pro-liberty. It is because the Republicans are the party from Hell, and the Democrats are the only force that is able to oppose them effectively at the polls.

But if we had Democratic domination of Congress and the Presidency and the courts, and they were as united and ideological as the Republicans, we would probably be in about as much trouble.

William J. Stepp - 10/16/2005

You are certainly right in indicting the GOP in the Bush II era for massive intervention against liberty and the market, and I think libertarians would generally support your arguments. We would not, howver, cite the deficit as Exhibit A in our brief. I think Democrats tend to fixate on it because of the widespread tendency to see it as bad in and of itself (and this is not confined to the left, which makes it easier to pull off), and because it alleviates them of the harder work of criticizing other domestic interventions they often support (e.g., the budget busting Medicare drug benefit).
So yes, Bush is a Big Government conservative (or rather a fascist), in the tradition of TR (as _The Economist_ recently noted). Libertarians should be making this case, in chapter and verse, and thereby slaying two birds with one stone.
Still, in the long sweep of history, there is no question that Democratic regimes have been at least as anti-market and pro-war both ideologically and in practice,
as Republican regimes.
Your implicit call for a long-run comparative study of the two parties' influence on liberty and the market should be taken up by libertarians.

Gus diZerega - 10/16/2005

Sometimes I think some libertarians love history because it prevents them from looking at what is happening NOW.

The Democratic Party of LBJ let alone FDR is long gone. The arrogant Progressive fantasies of experts controlling us for our own good are rarely if ever heard in Democratic circles to my knowledge. Many liberals learned from the demise of LBJ's Great Society and its excesses along the way.

When I read Democratic economists like Brad DeLong or Paul Krugman or the economist who manages the blog Atrios, I frequently hear sentiments that when I was young would have characterized Goldwater Republicans, not Democrats.

No, they are not libertarians - but neither are they believers in heavy regulation.

NOW the Republicans plan and implement aggressive war which, (if you want history), was described by Randolph Bourne as "the health of the state."

NOW Republicans oppose free trade far more than Democrats. Compare Clinton with the thug in the White House now.

NOW Democrats are on balance a lot better on civil liberties with the one exception of gun control. And possessing guns is neither a necessary (Communist Russia) nor a sufficient (many Arab states) means for fighting tyranny successfully, though of course I support the right to keep and bear arms.

NOW Republicans (and some Democrats) are the ones arguing you can rebuild cultures at the point of a gun. Talk about arrogant Progressivism!

NOW Republicans have made far more explicit and on a larger scale the integration of big corporations and the government so that the powerful can become richer not through the market but through theft.

NOW Republicans have given us a tax increase through soaring deficits - and many libertarians remain stupid enough to think this constitutes a tax cut rather than government largess to the well connected. There has never been a tax cut - only a tax shift to the young and unborn.

NOW Republicans have attacked what remains of federalism in education (No Child Left behind) and state courts and family law alike (Schiavo).

NOW Republicans have attacked the separation of powers. (Schiavo)

NOW Republicans wildly inflate the perscription monopoly over drugs away from public health to tweisted versions of morality. (Morning after pill.)

NOW Republicans use tax funds to bribe "journalists" to be secret governemnt hacks. (we won't mention the guilty "libertarian.")

NOW Republicans have largely made an end run around the Founders' strongest barrier to arbitrary power - the separation of power. All that remains free of their domination is the courts.

NOW Republicans have built the first national level political machine. (Civil service was used to prevent the Democrats from doing so - and the ReThugs have done a good job of "outsourceing" contracts to the "private" sector, thereby creating a situation where they NEED to spend lots of money to pay off their corporate supporters.

Any libertarian thinking Republicans are in ANY sense more favorable to markets or especially to freedom, which is not quite the same thing, needs to think again.

Frozen Ideology frees one from having to pay attention to what is happening. It has a lot in common, as a style of thinking, with fundamentalist Chritianity.

These remarks apply as much to Mr. Stepp's comments as to Mr. Skoble's.

William J. Stepp - 10/15/2005

Aeon Skoble is right that deficits are only one of numerous ways to understand the effect of government intervention. It takes two sides to make a deficit, expenditures and revenues. Obviously the former have zoomed under 43, thus increasing the deficit, so the focus should be on that.
FDR ran by far the biggest deficits as a percentage of GNP/GDP, although they were far smaller in absolute terms. If you look at 32's overall record, he did a lot more to damage the economy than his successors, including the recent crop.

Aeon J. Skoble - 10/15/2005

Yes, fair point, but there's a lot more to market-friendliness than reducing the deficit. There are a host of good reasons for wanting the federal deficit low even for market-unfriendly types. This statistic is useful in certain conversations, but there are dozens of other criteria on which most Dems are extremely market-unfriendly. Bottom line, which won't surprise L&P readers, is that they're _all_ market-unfriendly in most cases.