To the battle stations

October 13, 2010

Arthur
Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, has
been writing op-eds
based on his new book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will
Shape America's Future.

His
title captures the frenzied tenor of current politics-it's an all-or-nothing
battle. Either the side of "free enterprise" wins or the side of "big
government " wins. The two sides represent antithetical ways of thinking,
Brooks says, and he rails against what he sees as the radical "big government"
programs of President Obama.

Actually,
it's almost entirely the free enterprise folks who imagine that free enterprise
and big government are incompatible. As Jonathan Chait points out in a stellar
review
of the book, Democrats,
including Obama, extol entrepreneurs and free enterprise at every opportunity.
Democrats constantly defend government programs on the basis of how they will
help businesses be more competitive. There is no anti-free enterprise party in
America.

Furthermore,
the vast majority of free-enterprise-loving Americans are quite happy with the
big government benefits of thing like Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security, food
and drug rules, child labor laws and financial regulations.

So
where, really, is the battle—except in the fevered imaginations of people like
Brooks?

Chait
suggests that the fiscal difference between Democrats and conservative
Republicans comes down to this: Democrats would put government spending at
about 25 percent of GDP, while conservative Republicans would peg it at 19
percent.

So
our all-or-nothing war for the soul of America comes down to the advantages and
disadvantages of 6 percent of the economy? You might think we could have a
civil, fact-based debate about that.