Even Moderate Conservatives Have Given Up on the Idea of Public Goods?
We live in disordered political times, when visceral antipathy to Barack Obama’s agenda drives even reasonable conservatives to say things they should know are not true. The reaction to the president’s unfortunate remark about the condition of the private sector is a perfect example. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana said this: “He [Obama] does not understand where wealth and jobs come from. It comes from a successful private sector or not at all … Government does not create wealth or income. It just shuffles it around and charges a price, a cost for that service or disservice.”
Daniels is obviously right that a vigorous private sector is and must be the principal locus of wealth and employment. But he is dead wrong to suggest that government is simply redistributive or worse, a dead-weight drag on the economy. Throughout American history, government has made investments that have fueled economic growth. Is it really necessary to remind the governor of facts that young people used to learn in high school? Is he not familiar with the historic role of the public sector in catalyzing the construction of canals, railroads, bridges, and roads—indeed, every aspect of the infrastructure that ensures the mobility of raw materials and finished goods? What about human capital—public schools, land-grant colleges, student grants, and loans? Surely the governor understands that individuals’ ability to earn a decent living, and America’s ability to compete in the global economy, depends more and more on the education and training of our workforce. And what about basic research, which helps replenish the well of ideas from which so many commercially viable products and processes are drawn?