Ronald Reagan made no bone of his wariness of government. He said in his first Inaugural Address that ‘Government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.’ He was afervent apostle of low taxes, free markets and deregulation. So was Margaret Thatcher. She believed the less state equals more freedom.
Such ideas have now to be consigned to the dustbin of history. Mostpeople accept that the pursuit of individual self interest, unbridled capitalism don’t serve the public good. Politicians are having to make a virtue of revived Keynesianism. Mr. Obama’s team came upwith an $ 819 billion dollar stimulus package including aid to cash-strapped states and long term investments in infrastructure. Mr. Brown also unveiled ambitious plans for a 1930’s American styleprogram of public works to ease the pain of recession.
The problem is that some people think the common good is just the sum of all interest groups clamouring for their share. Messrs Brown and Obamashould not just pump money into the system; they are also expected to impose stricter oversight on several industries, to protect citizens against the risks of unemployment and ill health, to make theircountries safer by investing in their energy independence. They will have to be ‘enablers”, helping Americans and Britons realize their dreams while reminding them that in doing so they serve a causegreater than themselves.
The Reagan, Thatcher and Bush years forgot about the king of patriotism evoked by JF Kennedy in his 1961 Inaugural Address: “Ask not what your country can do for you, askwhat you can do for your country.” Civic engagement and government actions are necessary partners, not alternatives. A relief program is not an end in itself, it will be judged by its efficiency. To...