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Covid-19 Poses Risk of Permanently Big Government (Washington Examiner) September 7, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

The coronavirus pandemic risks fueling a permanent expansion of government.

President Biden’s proposed plan to spend $3.5 trillion on cradle-to-grave social programs is clear evidence of this risk. But we’re also seeing tension as federal programs to augment unemployment support come to an end.

As eminent political scientist James Q. Wilson wrote of President Lyndon Johnson’s aggressive Great Society programs in the 1960s, they “lowered the legitimacy barrier” for government action. Previously, there had been debate over whether the federal government had the power to act on domestic problems such as welfare, education, urban renewal, etc. But thanks to Johnson, that debate essentially ended. Any “new” domestic program was not really new — it was arguably an expansion of what the government was already doing.

This is a consequence of COVID-19 as well: we have gotten comfortable with increased government spending everywhere — from health to education to unemployment and housing. Biden’s new $3.5 trillion social program would grow not only government spending, but also its role in people’s lives. How about paid family leave for births? Free or affordable child care? Two years of universal pre-K schooling? An increased child tax credit? Two years of free college? Expansion of Medicare to cover dental and vision?

Pre-COVID, such a vast program would likely have been near impossible to pass. People would have called it socialism, a move away from individualism toward the social welfare systems of Europe. But now? Well, COVID-19 has opened the gates to greater federal support.

My fear is that this support will be permanent. The history of declared states of emergency provides evidence. There are 30 national emergencies that have remained in effect for years, even decades. President Jimmy Carter declared the oldest in the late 1970s. Emergencies may come and go, but emergency declarations and powers persist.

Ultimately, COVID-19 poses risks to our democracy if, as James Q. Wilson said, it makes us more comfortable with increased government power and intrusion.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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