Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs thinks that the left has already lost this battle. Democrats fail to offer voters a progressive alternative because, like Republicans, they “depend on wealthy contributors to finance their presidential campaigns. These donors want and expect their taxes to stay low.” Both parties thus promise to reduce the size of the state. President Obama’s target for discretionary spending – 5.9% of GDP in 2016 – is “essentially the same as Mr Ryan’s”.
Whether Mr Obama or Mr Romney wins, the “non-security” discretionary budget – for education, job skills, infrastructure, science and technology, space, environmental protection, alternative energy and climate change adaptation – is on the chopping block. Mr Obama’s budget would shrink non-security discretionary programmes from an already insufficient 3.1 per cent of GDP in 2011 to 1.8 per cent in 2020. ….
Viewed from an international perspective, the constricted range of the US fiscal debate is striking. Total US government revenues (combining federal, state and local governments) in 2011 came in at about 32 per cent of GDP. This compares with an average of 44 per cent in the EU and 50 per cent in northern Europe.
Many Americans will say that they are dodging the European curse by keeping taxation so low but they should look again. Northern Europe (Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) gets great value for its tax revenues: lower budget deficits, lower unemployment rates, lower public debt-to-GDP ratios, lower poverty rates, greater social mobility, better job training, longer life expectancy, lower greenhouse gas emissions, higher reported life satisfaction and greater macroeconomic stability.
Jeffrey Sachs, “America has lost the battle over government“, Financial Times, 16 August 2012.
This is an excellent op-ed, worth reading in its entirety. I wonder, though, if part of the problem might be that the median US voter has moved far to the right, and both Democrats and Republicans are responding to this. There have almost never been major differences between the two parties in the past, so why should we expect major differences now?
If both parties have moved far ‘too far’ to the right – past the median voter, candidates from the centre/left should be able to attract large numbers of voters. I see independent activists (the ‘Tea Party’) on the right. Where are the centre/left activists?