Denver think tank refutes Reagan’s ‘government is problem’ meme

That sound you hear isn’t the economy trickling down but what may prove to be the slow drip-drip-drip of a public repudiation of a long-held conservative political belief that “government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”

Popularized by President Ronald Reagan in his first inaugural address, the phrase set the stage for a dissembling of a wide range of federal safety net programs and corporate regulations that amplified the savings and loan crisis in the mid-1980s and the 1987 stock market crash.

Flash forward to September 2008. Under Reagan acolyte President George W. Bush, the nation experiences an historic Wall Street meltdown, employment crash, skyrocketing national debt and housing crisis precipitated by the same “trickle-down” economic theories and tax cuts for the super wealthy that are leaving millions of Americans in serious financial straits with underfunded public programs ill-prepared for the onslaught of those seeking assistance.

Last week, the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute revisited its May 2008 report on federal community investment projects in light of current economic conditions:

Not too long ago, when collectively facing monumental challenges like the Great Depression or millions of veterans returning home from World War II, the federal government led the effort to solve problems that the private sector and the free market were either unwilling or unable to fix themselves.

Likewise, this paper validates the view that increasing public investments during difficult economic times, as opposed to decreasing such investments, is an effective strategy for economic progress. Bold public investments propel broader economic growth.

While the last 30 years has seen large-scale erosion in the trust and connectivity that people feel towards government, evidence suggests that change is indeed coming. In the 2008 elections, exit polling showed there was virtually no ideological shift in the electorate, compared to most recent elections. However, for the first time since exit polling began in 1994, a slim majority of voters — 51 percent — want government to do more to solve problems.

That’s exactly what we believe government can and should do.

The shift in public perception toward the “common good” and government’s unique role in equalizing opportunity among the citizenry is encouraging in light of the many challenges ahead. It also serves as a signal that the electorate may indeed be rejecting the faux bootstrapping conservative economic principles that reward those who got us into this mess while middle- and working-class families get the bum’s rush from their banks, creditors and financial service regulators.

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Wendy Norris

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