Sunday, August 29, 2004

Progressive Conservatives

Libertarians seem to split on school choice. Some like the idea of empowering parents (especially the poorest) and injecting competition into an industry that suffers badly from too little of it. Others worry about introducing government into private school systems that have achieved excellence. Perhaps U.S. universities are an apt example. Their strengths can be traced to the fact that they compete; their weaknesses can be linked to their ties to government and politics.

With another bleak political convention getting started, David Brooks, writing in today's NY Times Magazine, argues that "The Era of Small Government is Over". Republicans in power are unprincipled about big government, its pork and its scope. What to do?

Brooks looks for a way out and quotes George W. Bush as advocating that, "government can and should help citizens gain the tools to make their own choices." The new prescription drug entitlement includes some of this and Brooks-Bush see an acceptable trade-off in the idea of big federal government but one that offers recipients greater choice -- among other things. The Brooks piece is worth a look.

The sad part is the strong suggestion that this is the best that we can hope for. Socialism's failures are finally widely acknowledged, the Berlin Wall is gone, market economics is no longer deemed exotic or eccentric. Yet, while Democrats have embraced the label "progressive" and define it as New Deal-plus, Brooks' "progressive conservatives" would go along but for the price of including more choice.

Brooks does acknowledge that war changes everything and that we are in a war (foisted on us)against Islamic extremists. They embrace terror but it is not a war against inanimate terror but against the people who practice it: Islamic extremists. Norman Mineta take note.