How Much Government Is Good Government?

  • Title:

    How Much Government Is Good Government?


On December 2, 2010, Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) debated New York Times Columnist David Brooks on the question, "How Much Government Is Good Government?"

Ryan: Energetic government is impossible without limits. Big government is lethargic government. A government whose size and scope is not properly limited will always seek to raise taxes before it looks for ways to innovate and do more with less.

Brooks: You believe, as you made clear today, in the idea that government has to pay a positive role. But how, exactly? That is the crucial question. And exactly how and exactly how not should not be in the abstract but in specific cases: in the case of Hurricane Katrina and in the case of when we did the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Exactly how do we define what government should and should not do? That's a question you elide, and you make it a polarized choice between the side of free opportunity and the side of socialism.

Ryan: We do have to settle this question. What is the role of government? Is it equal opportunity or is it equal outcomes? Big difference. What is equality? And we have to settle that. Because if you take a look at the genesis behind the ideas on the Left it goes in a different direction, so yes I guess it is stark.

Brooks: The problem with the road to serfdom formulation is that it makes compromise impossible, it makes politics impossible.

Ryan: Compromise is a good word, as long as you're compromising in the right direction, in line with fulfilling your principles. . .I do believe it's a choice: a prosperous, free, opportunity society with a safety net, as opposed to the cradle-to-grave society where we turn the safety net into a hammock.

Brooks: I think it's a time for flexibility and some sort of compromise: compromise built on the principle that what matters is character. What matters is the character of the country, using government in ways that instill good character and not using the government to instill bad character.

The question of the proper size and scope of government creates many rifts, even among conservatives. In this AEI debate, both Brooks and Ryan make the case for their competing visions of America. The conversation serves as a vivid reminder that even those who often agree on most things can differ on the basic question of the government's purpose.

In this ebook transcript of the debate, Brooks and Ryan explore the nuances of conservative theory, bolstered by a "Further Reading" section that provides articles on the topics discussed. With an introduction by AEI President Arthur Brooks, this book serves as a primer into the issues surrounding one of the nation's most important questions.

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