One of the biggest myths in politics is that Republicans support small government. They invariably use calls for small government to oppose most programs when out of office, but government shows tremendous growth whenever Republicans are in power. This includes both new programs and wage and price controls under Richard Nixon to the major expansions in government spending under Ronald Reagan and George Bush. Of course Republicans tend to be selective when discussing big government, ignoring both unfunded wars and their push for greater government interference in the private lives of individuals.
Ezra Klein had a post yesterday entitled How Republicans stopped worrying and learned to love big government. This title could actually have been used many times over the past decades and for a variety of policies. Ezra used this for just one particular hypocrisy on the part of Republicans, a “demand that the federal government start predicting the deficit 30 years into the future.” Ezra outlined the difficulties in making such projections, and pointed out how this demand contradicts a key Republican belief:
A core insight of conservatism is that central planning fails because economies are too complicated for governments to effectively predict. But if you believe the government can usefully predict the path of the economy not just over the next 10 years but over 30, then you should be begging the government to intervene more directly in economic affairs.
Conservatives are generally correct in this criticism of central planning, as long as this idea isn’t used, as many conservatives do, to argue against any government regulation of the economy. This contradiction is also somewhat analogous to another hypocritical argument being made by conservatives lately regarding the IRS handling of Tea Party applications for tax breaks. While Republicans generally, and again often correctly, complain about how big and unwieldy the federal government can be, they also argue that Barack Obama must have been aware of, and actually directing for sinister purposes, what low level IRS career bureaucrats were doing wrong because they are part of his administration.
Conservative economics actually do include some core beliefs which make sense. However, modern conservatives tend to fail to understand how these principles apply to the real world, while liberals tend to agree with these conservative beliefs where they make sense (despite the many straw man attacks seen on liberal views from the right).