Thursday, October 19, 2006

Bush, Howard and conservatism

Among a few Australian economic liberals criticism of the big-spending propensities of the Howard government is a constant theme. Andrew Norton calls Howard a 'conservative social democrat'. This approach identifies state expenditure with social democracy; Howard might better be classified with the Catholic Christian Democratic tradition. But if Howard loses next year most of the Liberal factions will agree on criticising his taxation and expenditure policies, this will enable them to escape arguing about industrial relations or the Iraq war. Pressure will also come from the Australian supply-siders with their faith-based approach to finance (peter Reith has a trial run here). In practice this will play out strangely, the initial will be that tax receipts will rise as a result of tax cuts, then it will deficets don't matter, and then any constraints on public expenditire will be dropped. In the US criticism of Bush's alleged 'big government conservatism' have become a torrent among many conservative intellectuals. An interesting article in the neo-conservative Weekly Standard notes that all of Bush's conservative critics can agree on criticising his expenditure policy, but correctly argues that:
No doubt there is conservative disaffection today. But it failed to manifest itself during Bush's first five years in office, when he was no less of a spender than he is now. If conservative voters have turned against their president, it's because of his perceived incompetence--over Iraq and Katrina--and his support for immigration reform, not No Child Left Behind or the prescription drug entitlement. Indeed, if there's any lesson to take from Bush's sky-high popularity among conservatives for most of his presidency, it's that the movement's rank and file cares far less about government-cutting than its activists do...Or perhaps the rank and file just have longer memories. After all, Ronald Reagan, the man whose legacy Bush has supposedly betrayed, presided over a federal government that consumed 23.5 percent of GDP in 1984. Granted, this was at the height of the Cold War defense build-up, yet the figure far surpasses spending under President Clinton, which reached a low of 18 percent of GDP in 2001.


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