Debt debate: the myth of the good old days before big government
As Republicans focus on budget cuts, let's travel to the 1800s to see what it really looked like before Big Bad Federal Government. Economic downturns resulted in food riots, social unrest, industrial violence. We don't have that today, thanks to big government.
(Page 2 of 2)
Strike-related bloodshed continued into the 20th century, whenever the economy dipped. In 1934, at the heart of the Great Depression, 13 striking textile workers were killed. Meanwhile, a wave of “sit-down” strikes seized the automobile industry. Police tried to remove workers with tear-gas; the laborers fought back with firehoses.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Today, by some measures, the United States faces its greatest economic calamity since the 1930s. Between 14 million and 21 million Americans who want jobs don’t have them; and another 8 million or 9 million are working part-time because they can’t find full-time positions. You can see them at pawn shops and homeless shelters, on unemployment lines and in soup kitchens.
But you won’t see them rioting or looting, or engaging in pitched battles with cops or soldiers. And there’s one big reason for that: Big Government. Put simply, the federal government has created a safety net that provides for all of us. So when we’re down on our luck, we can scrape by without scraping each other.
To be sure, the net still has lots of holes. And even with them, it costs lots and lots of money. In 1960, so-called entitlements – Social Security, veterans’ benefits, and Aid to Families with Dependent Children – accounted for just over a quarter of the federal budget. By 2000, with the addition of Medicare and Medicaid, 60 percent of the budget went to entitlements.
That wouldn’t be a problem, necessarily, if we were willing to tax ourselves for it. Unfortunately, we’re not. Although the national debt stabilized under Bill Clinton, it spiked massively during George W. Bush’s presidency. The main reason were Bush’s tax cuts, which resulted in roughly $1 trillion in lost revenues.
In the end, reducing the deficit will obviously require some combination of tax increases and entitlement reform. But it won’t do simply to cut Big Bad Government and return to the Good Old Days, as the GOP supposes. The Good Old Days were awful, for millions of Americans. And Big Government made them better.