The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. —THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1788

Do liberals want big government?

Marco RubioAttacking Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) State of the Union address, Paul Krugman contends that, while conservatives see smaller government as an end in itself, liberals don’t see bigger government the same way. As he’s raised this argument on other occasions, a response is merited.

The Florida senator asserted: “This idea – that our problems were caused by a government that was too small – it’s just not true.”

Krugman rejoins that Rubio’s statement is the “usual mirror-image fallacy (we want smaller government, therefore liberals just want bigger government, never mind what it does).

A clever dodge. Of course liberals don’t want a bigger government “no matter what it does,” and no conservative has said otherwise; but nor do conservatives want a smaller government “no matter what it cuts.” Abolishing the military, for instance, would shrink government, but no conservative favors that.

The real issue is that each side holds equally opposing values, and these clashing values precipitate an inescapable trade-off between big and small government. The right wants to protect liberty, which preserves the traditional understanding of equal opportunity: that we’re all born with equal “natural rights” and that we’re equal before the law (and in the eyes of God, as understood by our founders). People have an inherent right to cultivate their natural talents and industry, and to keep the fruits of their labor. Government must be restrained from infringing these rights.

The left wants to advance equality, and has radically transformed the traditional understanding of “equality of opportunity.” No longer does it suffice that people possess equal inherent rights and receive equal treatment before the law. People must be given the same opportunities: The State must make equal unequal starting points. Since some are born in to more privileged circumstances than others in life, government must step in and provide, taking from the privileged to give to the less fortunate.

Thus the State is inflated or contracted as a means to each side’s respective ends. If equality wins, liberty loses, and so the reverse.

It is therefore as fair to say conservatives want smaller government as it is to say liberals want bigger government.

No fallacy here.

David Weinberger has worked in communications at The Heritage Foundation. He currently works for Prager University and blogs at diversityofideas.blogspot.com. The views expressed herein are his own.

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