What is the relationship between the rise of big government and the rise of American prosperity? It seems that people on the right and left are quick to confuse correlation with causation. They believe that the US is wealthy because the government is big and expansive. This error is probably the most common of all errors in political economy. It is just assumed that buildings are safe because of building codes, that stock markets are not dens of thieves because of the SEC, that the elderly don’t starve and die because of Social Security, and so on, all the way to concluding that we should credit big government for American wealth.
Now, this is where economic logic comes into play. You have to understand something about the way cause and effect operates in human affairs to understand that big government does not bring about prosperity. Government is not productive. It has no wealth of its own. All it acquires it must take from the private sector. You might believe that it is necessary and you might believe it does great good, but we must grant that it does not have the ability to produce wealth in the way the market does.