(New Jersey Governor) Christie argues that a state that is currently facing multibillion-dollar annual deficits cannot afford a huge new spending project that is already looking to be $5 billion overbudget. His critics argue that this tunnel is exactly the sort of infrastructure project that New Jersey needs if it’s to prosper in the decades ahead.
Both sides are right. But what nobody seems to be asking is: Why are important projects now unaffordable? Decades ago, when the federal and state governments were much smaller, they had the means to undertake gigantic new projects, like the Interstate Highway System and the space program. But now, when governments are bigger, they don’t.
The answer is what Jonathan Rauch of the National Journal once called demosclerosis. Over the past few decades, governments have become entwined in a series of arrangements that drain money from productive uses and direct it toward unproductive ones...
The end result is sclerotic government. Many of us would be happy to live with a bigger version of 1950s government: one that ran surpluses and was dexterous enough to tackle long-term problems as they arose. But we don’t have that government. We have an immobile government that is desperately overcommitted in all the wrong ways.
This situation, if you’ll forgive me for saying so, has been the Democratic Party’s epic failure. The party believes in the positive uses of government. But if you want the country to share that belief, you have to provide a government that is nimble, tough-minded and effective. That means occasionally standing up to the excessive demands of public employee unions. Instead of standing up to those demands, the party has become captured by the unions. Liberal activism has become paralyzed by its own special interests.
What we need are elected officials, like Christie, who aren't afraid to stand up to the entrenched interests, who are strong enough to make the difficult decisions about what's a nice-to-have versus what's a got-to-have when it comes to government spending. We need to prioritize our spending, and cut out what's low on that priority list. Our governments at all levels have to learn to live within their means. We need smaller, more limited government at the state and federal levels.
Here's to the quixotic hope that we'll start down that road in a few weeks, on Election Day.
Hat tip to reader Mazenko for sending the link to me.