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J. Philip Johnson, Published September 12 2010

A federal role vital to success

My conservative Republican friends tell me that the United States is sliding into socialism. The federal government has grown too large. Taxes are too high, government regulation and control are stifling the free market, eliminating the opportunities for growth and entrepreneurship.

If only we reduce the size and role of the federal government, we can return to the idyllic capitalist economy envisioned by Adam Smith.

In examining this premise, I find it helpful to review the actual experience of our world economy over the past several decades. While most of the national economies have endured extreme distress in the course of the Great Recession, there is one country that has seen ongoing growth and success. This country has endured no economic downturn, much less a slowing in its rate of growth.

This country has recently passed Japan as the world’s second-largest economy. This country is on a path to pass the United States as the world’s largest economy. The leadership of this country has provided substantially more recent financial stimulus in proportion to its economic base than the United States.

This nation recently provided an all-time record initial public offering, when one of its banks went public. This nation provided the most successful and extravagant Olympic Games the world has yet witnessed. This nation currently holds more of the United States’ national debt than any other country.

This country, of course, is the People’s Republic of China – a country run by communists. The Chinese Communist Party is the sole entity handling the reins of government in China. It is, of course, not the party of Lenin or Stalin. It is a more sophisticated and pragmatic party. But this leadership has brought a nation of more than 1 billion people to an astonishing degree of economic success since the days of Deng Xiaoping and the death of Mao.

This is not to say that we need to follow the Chinese model. However, in a world economy of immense complexity and unforeseen risks, it will be necessary to have a significant level of government foresight, direction and restraint.

If we are to compete with the Chinese on a world stage, an active and effective federal government will be essential. An idealized concept of the free market, however glorified by talk-show hosts, will not survive that competition. This is not the time to dismantle and denude our federal government.

Think about the actual world, our actual world history and the challenges of leaving our fate to the disparate self-interest of 300 million individual citizens. Think.


Johnson is a Fargo attorney.