Over at The Atlantic, the excellent Michael Kinsley lands some blows against the Tea Party movement, but offers one argument that is just plain wrong.
The government’s main function these days is writing checks to old people. These checks allow people to retire and pursue avocations such as going to Tea Party rallies. This basic fact about the government is no great secret. In fact, it’s a huge cliché, probably available more than once in an average day’s newspaper. But the Tea Party Patriots feel free to ignore it and continue serving up rhetoric about “the audaciousness and arrogance of our government,” and calling for the elimination of the Federal Reserve Board or drastic restraints on the power of the Internal Revenue Service.
“I like what they’re saying. It’s common sense,” a random man-in-the-crowd told a Los Angeles Times reporter at a big Tea Party rally. Then he added, “They’ve got to focus on issues like keeping jobs here and lowering the cost of prescription drugs.” These, of course, are projects that can be conducted only by Big Government. If the Tea Party Patriots ever developed a coherent platform or agenda, they would lose half their supporters.
Actually, there are obvious small government methods of “keeping jobs here” and “lowering the cost of prescription drugs.”
How do you keep jobs in America without Big Government? You could reform worker’s compensation laws, lower payroll taxes, reduce the regulatory burdens associated with building new factories, eliminate the minimum wage, liberalize immigration laws in a way that reduces the cost of labor — there are reasonable arguments against all of these things, and I wouldn’t recommend doing all of them, but Mr. Kinsley’s account makes it sound as though there is no trade-off between government regulations, their benefits, and their costs.
The same can be said for prescription drugs. The FDA approval process raises costs for consumers even as it protects their safety, as does the necessity of a doctor’s visit to receive a prescription, but it isn’t as though there aren’t alternatives. Drug companies could be given the option to sell their products here so long as they’ve already gained approval to sell a particular drug in the European Union. Pharmacists could be trusted to prescribe certain drugs so that you wouldn’t have to spend money on that doctor’s visit next time you get an ear infection from surfing in polluted water or your eczema flares up. Again, there are trade-offs here, but there are certainly reasonable, moderate reforms that could achieve the ends the man at the Tea Party suggested by reforming and reducing government, rather than relying on “Big Government” efforts.