Acton Institute Powerblog

The Contending Realities of Progressive Economics

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We need to trim government programs today in order make way for bigger government tomorrow.

That seems to be the message former treasury secretary and Obama economic advisor Larry Summers delivered today at the Washington Ideas Forum:

“If we want to have the same kind of society we always had…you may see some upward drift in government,” he said. “That’s why you need to work ever harder to eliminate government activities that don’t need to take place.”

Summers deserves credit for attempting to incorporate reality into the liberal economic worldview. Government will have to take an increasing share of GDP just to keep up with the growth of current government programs. But we can’t afford the programs we have now, which means we must, as Summers says, “eliminate government activities that don’t need to take place.”

But his message will fall on deaf progressive ears. Liberals are generally opposed to giving up any government funding of private activities, much less give up actual government activities. Remember just a few weeks ago when President Obama mocked the idea of defunding PBS? And the mere suggestion of cutting off taxpayer funds for the president’s favorite billion dollar corporation—Planned Parenthood—causes him to reach for his veto pen.

American liberalism suffers from a political paradox: There is no realistic way for America to keep paying for all the programs liberals want to keep—and there is no realistic scenario in which American liberals voluntarily give up any of those programs. Unfortunately, the only resolution to the problem will be an economic crisis that leads to forced austerity measure. That’s the future reality all of us will be forced to contend with tomorrow since liberals refuse to contend with present realities today.

Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).