Government Now and Then
By Alice Temnick
In this podcast episode, EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomes back Washington Post columnist George Will to talk about his book, The Conservative Sensibility. What ensues is a multi-topic discussion about American politics, History with a capital H, and the meaning and intention of conservatism in this fractious time. We’re interested in your reactions to Will’s depiction of the political landscape. How do you anticipate the story that will be told of the 2020 election-year process?
1- How does George Will make the case for the rejection of natural rights in opening the potential for an enormous new project by the Wilson presidency? Why might a “nimble government” and a president as a “personal representative to the people” have appealed to early 20th century Americans? To what extent do you think it still appeals to Americans today?
2- Of the three conservatives discussed, Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, which do you believe had the most influence on the “neo-liberalism” of reduced government size and role in honor of freer markets? How significant was this short-lived 20th-century phenomenon?
3- Will suggests that the 1960s brought about serious arguments of the actual competence of government. Roberts counters the effectiveness of the conservative call for smaller government in light of the perceived and measured economic growth of the country. Roberts asks, “how do we square that with the size of government?” How does Will reply, and how convincing do you find his answer?
4- With slower growth rates and apparent worker immobilization, Will points out that it is hard to prevent the American people from creating wealth. Are there additional forces at work for or against our future potential economic growth? Are you more optimistic or pessimistic about the next decade? Explain.
5- What might reverse the destigmatization of dependency? Roberts points out that there is no shame in Food Stamps or agricultural supports. Will adds that the re-authorization of the Export-Import bank is a glaring acceptance of bipartisan growth of transfer payments. In light of this directional tendency, why is Will hopeful that there may be a turning back to this goal of the Constitution, “all legislative powers shall be vested in a Congress of the United States”?