Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) recently provided a stark illustration of the fundamentally divergent worldviews of big-government liberalism and free-market conservatism. She told ABC's George Stephanopoulus of the intention of her and House Democrats to include hundreds of millions of dollars for Planned Parenthood and contraceptives in the economic "stimulus bill."
"Well, the family-planning services reduce cost," explained Pelosi. "The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now, and part of what we do for children's health, education, and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs." "One of the initiatives," said a matter-of-fact Pelosi, "contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government."
A stunned Stephanopoulus responded, "So, no apologies for that?"
Of course, not, averred the mother of five children and lifelong Roman Catholic: "No apologies. No. And this is a, to stimulate the economy, is an economic recovery package … to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy."
Pelosi pushed for this funding under the massive umbrella of government handouts collectively known as the "stimulus bill." What began as a bailout of banks and auto-makers had morphed into federal disincentives to baby-makers.
Pelosi's comments came two days after President Obama signed an executive order reversing Ronald Reagan's 1984 Mexico City Policy. Obama's order funnels U.S. taxpayer dollars to groups like International Planned Parenthood to provide abortion and contraception overseas. For these cash-strapped groups, this was a bailout.
Likewise, then, domestic "family-planning" groups are hoping for a bailout. Speaker Pelosi's comments seemed to signal the government green-light.
This begs a question: How could this be an economic stimulus? What is Congresswoman Pelosi's economic rationale?
The answer is that certain people on the political left view a growing human population as an economic burden for government–that is, a government that operates according to their mindset. They view the world's resources as limited. Given those finite resources, an expanding population is a problem for a government whose job–in their view–is to take care of people through collectivism and redistribution. The more babies–the more daunting the task. A burgeoning population, they further believe, also hurts the environment.
This is a very old argument, one that exploded onto the global stage in the late 1960s and 1970s through the likes of Paul Ehrlich and his "Population Bomb," through movies like "Soylent Green," through groups like the U.N. Population Fund and Club of Rome, through communist China's one-child policy. It was a concern of racial eugenicist Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. It is also a dominant view in our graduate schools, especially in "development" programs.
This worldview runs completely contrary to the thinking of the free-market conservative, who, philosophically, and religiously, takes seriously the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth, and to unleash people to be producers and entrepreneurs. Unfettered by government controls, regulation, and high taxation, the producers will find new resources, expand current ones, and generally take care of themselves.
Pelosi's assessment hit home with me because it dovetails into the lectures in my Comparative Politics course at Grove City College. In that class, we use several indices of political and economic freedom. Thanks to modern data collection, we now know–as shown in these indices–that the traditional Big Three bogeymen of Over-Population, Limited Resources, and Colonialism are not reliable predictors of a nation's economic prosperity.
Those who advance such thinking in the classroom cherry-pick the countries that they believe make their case, while ignoring those that stand in glaring defiance of their model. To cite merely one country example that blows up all Big Three bogeymen: Hong Kong is bursting with people, has no resources, and was a colony very, very recently. It is also an extremely wealthy country–and the world's freest economy.
Take out a map and run through countries that have high population densities and those that do not–ditto for resources and colonialism. You will find that the Big Three are not, by any stretch, reliable predictors of prosperity.
Is there a reliable predictor? Yes, economic freedom–a statistically proven formula for success. Countries that are economically free succeed, whereas countries that are economically un-free do not succeed. The freest countries in the world are the most economically prosperous; the un-freest are the poorest. Period.
So, if freedom works, why do the likes of Speaker Pelosi not seek to limit rather than expand government? For one, they do not buy this policy prescription, having for too long been spoon-fed otherwise. They judge the free-marketers the modern equivalent of flat-earthers. Secondly, and more significant, limited government is anathema to government collectivists, redistributionists, managers, and central planners. It is not the answer they want to hear. It puts them out of business.
Alas, President Obama asked Pelosi and the House Democrats to remove the Planned Parenthood spending from the stimulus, which they did. (Could Barbara Boxer and friends reinsert it in the Senate version?) Obama plans to get funding to Planned Parenthood in politically smarter ways.
Still, Speaker Pelosi offered a telling insight into the thinking that pervades the highest echelon of the U.S. Congress–literal life lessons that speak volumes about the leaders Americans have elected to spend their money.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision Values at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (HarperPerennial, 2007) and The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007).