Divided Government: Hopeful or Harmful?

I wrote a syndicated column this week that left me with very mixed feelings about a number of positions I’ve previously accepted. I’m generally a big fan of divided government; I’m still a fan, to some extent. But this year I’m not interested in seeing a Republican victory that brings divided government.

Here is my dilemma. I absolutely hate the thought of Democrats not being booted from Congress, but also the many specifics and consequences that would follow if such a booting occurred in this election year.

In the past, I’ve made the case that divided government, while not a silver bullet for protecting the free market, is a way to slow, if ever so slightly, the growth of government. As my colleague Jack Salmon wrote a few years ago:

If we look back over the last three decades, when the president was a Democrat and the Senate was controlled by Republicans, the average annual spending increase during the six years of divided government under the Clinton administration was 4.1%, and just 3.4%. In contrast, periods of divided government with Republican presidents and Democratic Senates have overseen average annual spending increases of 6.2% (not adjusted for inflation).

This reality does not make Republicans look great. In fact, in 2008, just after Barack Obama was elected president, I looked at that same data and concluded that:

If limited government is the goal, history tells us we should be rooting for a Democratic president and a Republican Congress. And regardless of party affiliation, Texans should be kept out of the White House.

Intuitively, one can understand that unified government does the worst of both of us, especially when it comes to the administrative and regulatory state. And in that sense, I support the friction that comes from divided government. Also, I’ve always associated bipartisanship with “both sides agree to do something that extends the government’s projection into our lives”. I’m not a fan of that either. The last two years have given us many good examples of what I mean.

I have not changed my mind about these matters. what there is Changed, though, is the fact that the 2022 election that brings divided government likely means not only a strengthening of Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican Party, but also the election of many unqualified candidates who are neither free market nor have any policy ideas. except Their awakening and opposition to the Left.

The opposition to the Awakening may be enough for some, but I can’t ignore that it brought an enthusiastic support for bad policies, including welfare-for-all handouts, industrial policies, and a general disdain for free markets. When it comes to policy, the two parties come together only to hate each other and use taxpayer funds to bribe the public into loyalty to their respective big-government agendas.

Don’t get me wrong, the alternative to divided government would be terrible too. If Democrats can hold the Senate or lose just a few seats in the House, they will be buoyed by the idea that progressivism, policymaking by executive order, student-loan forgiveness, eviction moratoria, 40-year high inflation and budget deficits as far as the government can see are all A -Okay.

That’s why I tried to reassure myself that if we divided the government, maybe, just maybe, we could get these politicians to at least make some policy changes that would reduce some serious injustices and end some inexcusable government intrusions into our lives. and economics. They could, for example, pass immigration reform, legalize marijuana at the federal level, and lift all barriers to infrastructure and housing construction.

As I wrote my column and struggled with it, I thought the best way to summarize my optimistic thoughts would be:

Basically, on the spectrum between left and right, I’m in the center (not right or left). But on the spectrum that goes from less to more freedom, I’m a super-fan of freedom. So, the goal is to push politicians at the center for freedom-enhancing policies. How do we do that? A mixture of persuasion and good will, I guess.

A final thought. I hope that we do to do Get a divided government, the media will immediately start whining about gridlock and how nothing can be done without a unified government. Don’t buy it. When you look at government spending growth since the 1980s, it’s hard to tell when government split or consolidated:

Adjusted for inflation, the numbers don’t tell a different story.


Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center and a syndicated columnist for Creators.

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