MEGAN MCARDLE: Trump’s Budget Asks The Right Questions For Conservatives.
Conservatives are often accused of “hating government”, and some do. Still, there is a coherent and compelling center-right analysis that doesn’t simply blindly oppose federal spending, but asks of it a few questions:
Can the government actually make this problem better?
If so, must this problem be solved at the Federal level, or could it be done as easily or better by the states?
Even if the government might help solve this problem, would the associated costs in terms of loss of freedom, deadweight losses from regulation or taxation, and the declining accountability and manageability of government as it grows, actually be worth the benefit?
Many government programs currently in existence pass this test. Many on the list of programs and agencies scheduled for cuts do not. I mean, I like the arts. I adore NPR and PBS. But why should some carpenter in Akron who prefers “Duck Dynasty” to “Downton Abbey” be paying taxes so I can enjoy these things? In other cases, I would be willing to bet that the net long-term effect on the welfare of anyone other than those receiving government-funded paychecks was probably close to zero. Then there are the programs which might make sense in some form, but are indefensible as they currently exist. You can make an argument for community development block grants, in terms of developing poor parts of the country that need extra help. But it cannot possibly make sense to offer these grants in every state, even those that are net contributors to the federal budget. Yes, I understand the political arguments for such things — easier to get New York and California legislators to vote for it. As a policy matter, this is nonsensical.
While America’s libertarian streak is often wildly exaggerated, this much is not: most people don’t like the idea of a government that runs a zillion programs they have never heard of, to help some special interest they’ll never meet, and which have little accountability for actually generating results. This structure is a recipe for a lot of such programs.
And by cutting so broadly, the Trump administration may, ironically, have more hope than most of actually getting rid of the things that federal government should not be doing.