Let’s face it, modern academia has become an echo-chamber. Increasingly, there is less ideological diversity among university faculty, and more pressure on intellectuals to conform to specific standards of leftist dogma both in the classroom and when speaking to the public at large.

One of the most common refrains you will hear from academics is the notion that U.S. economic policy has been shifting rightward over the past 40 or so years. In particular, many put the starting point at 1980 with the election of Ronald Reagan. Since then, America has been a Laissez-Faire bastion that stomps on the poor every chance it gets.

Personally, I’ve heard this argument not simply put forward as a point of view, but outright taught as fact both in high school and in college. As a good example of how entrenched this notion is, take a look at what the well-known and very established Professor Stanley Aronowitz of CUNY wrote just last year following the 2014 midterm elections:

“For the past 40 years the Democratic Party establishment has relentlessly pursued “centrist” politics that allow them to follow the Republicans ever further to the right….

There is a recurring proposal heard among left-liberals: radicalize the Democratic Party by restoring it to its New Deal glory days. The genius of the New Deal was to have shifted the locus of political power to a federal center that promised, and partially delivered, the elements of security: unemployment benefits, Social Security, low-cost post-secondary education and a state-sponsored workers’ right to organize unions….

The past 40 years have brought a reversal of state paternalism. While successive governments strengthened the military and urban police departments in the wake of the 1960s-era urban uprisings among blacks, the social welfare functions of government have been considerably weakened, leading to a widening gap between the very rich and the rest of us….

The recurring dream of restoring the New Deal can be heard in calls for Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders to challenge Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries…”

Sorry professor, but by no honest measure has the military been “strengthened” and the social welfare functions of government been weakened, let alone “considerably,” over the past 40 years. To claim such a thing is outstandingly dishonest.

I already dove pretty deep on this topic in a piece written earlier this year. As a little bit of a summary, here is a chart off the New York Time’s website, from the reliable statistician Nate Silver. It looks at Federal spending as a percentage of GDP from 1910-2010:

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As you can see, no considerable weakening of social programs (referred to as “entitlements” here) took place since the 1970s. Relative to the size of the economy, and even more so in absolute terms, it has gone up. And since the end of WWII, the military has received an increasingly smaller percentage of our nation’s economic resources.

Furthermore, this trend has continued since 2010. The military budget has been losing nominal dollars over the past few years due to the sequester, and as GDP keeps growing, defense spending as a percentage of GDP continues to trend down fairly quickly. At the same time, the social programs that progressives champion have been exploding in cost. Social Security and Medicare are on the rise with the retirement of the Baby Boomers and Medicaid is expanding with the help of the Affordable Care Act. Many more Americans are on SNAP (food stamps) than before the rescission as well. I could go on in endless paragraphs listing all the transfer payment schemes that are larger than they were before. 

To say the government is less “paternalistic” than before is purely asinine. America is arguably at the point of being a social democracy already, especially after you add in state and local spending. What’s scary is progressives like Professor Aronowitz want even more transfer schemes. Free higher education, more child care benefits, single payer healthcare, universal pre-k, more subsidized transportation, and on and on without ever proposing the removal of a single existing entitlement. In fact, when Republicans dare to make small cuts, even in just the growth of these programs, they’re treated like they’re throwing orphans out in the snow.

Professor Aronowitz is likely teaching this faulty concept to his students. As I stated above, I’ve personally had two educators push this notion on us, both of them arguing that the U.S. is more capitalistic today than it was in the mid-twentieth century. Tax receipts have remained steady since then (mostly changing with cyclical economic factors), spending is up since then, the size of the government labor force is up since then, crony capitalism is peaking, and the private sector is more regulated than ever before. What on Earth are they talking about?

  • Jesse Liss

    i was looking for an aronowitz article and saw this. ill give a few minutes to respond to some claims youre making. first you are only looking at one metric, by other metrics military spending has clearly increased, here is the silver article you quote:
    “Military spending makes up closer to 24 percent of federal expenditures today. That’s up from the near-term low from 1998 to 2001, when it made up about 20 percent of federal spending. (One contributor to the budget surpluses achieved briefly during the Clinton administration was a peace dividend in the interim between the cold war and the Sept. 11 attacks.) And military spending in the United States has generally been rising relative to inflation and remains very high relative to most other nations. But over the longer term, it has fallen slightly relative to the gross domestic product, and substantially relative to other types of government spending.”
    growing entitlements just reflects baby boomers retiring and the growth of welfare programs in response to 2008 crisis and deep and long-lasting recession. those are political decisions ie do you want to see elderly out on the street or more of them reentering work force, which they have been.
    you seem to get to the point here: “What’s scary is progressives like Professor Aronowitz want even more transfer schemes.”
    i think you missed his article. he refering the policy convergence of the democrats and republicans. clinton the liberal cut welfare and ended welfare as we know it, clinton deregulated finance which has been at the heart of growing wealth inequality. those we all supported by both parties. aronowitz is calling for social movements to build a third party, which incorporates policies like redistribution and higher minimum wage. if those are what you take issue with then address those, dont pretend like the us is a socialist country because it gives out food stamps and unemployment after the largest crisis since the great depression.