For the past 65-70 years—and especially for the past 30 years since the end of the civil rights argument—American politics has been dominated by controversy over the size and scope of the welfare state. Today, that argument is largely over with liberals having largely won.
The crux of the matter is that progressive efforts to expand the size of the welfare state are basically done.
This seems plausible, but I think I can spin an equally plausible narrative of my own:
Imagine, in a parallel universe if you prefer, that some of Yglesias’ ideological compatriots are driven not by wonkish numeracy, but rather by a deep-seated desire to abolish suffering. Like the War on Terror, the War on Suffering (declared June 1st, 2017) can never be won; but for this hardened, elite team of poverty-warriors, it must eternally be fought. More and more resources are tossed at the task, the cost/benefit ratio spirals higher and higher, but the grim band presses on, for press on it must, for to do any less would be to admit defeat.
One dark and stormy night, a happiness researcher knocks on the door of the Department of Pleasure: “Did you know that our metrics suggest that happiness is sometimes a function not of absolute wealth but of relative wealth? On the other hand…” ENOUGH! The staff at the Department of Pleasure (formed by the Providing America Tools for Hastening the Obliteration of Suffering Act of 2037) are uninterested in the effects of culture upon the human psyche or the dubious methodology underlying the findings. Somebody out there feels bad about the fact that his neighbor has more resources! So quick! To the Bat Cave! After many quests and trials, our triumphant heroes manage to rescue the Phoenix Sword from the Dragon King, and bring its enormous, equalizing, leveling forces to bear upon society. Finally, and at long last, we will have discovered happiness.
Pure speculation, I know, but is it so far from the mark? After all, as we know, “one is too many”.
Kidding aside, I’m not grokking the obvious footholds on this slippery slope. Is my read on the motivations flat-out wrong? It seems that much of the tradition of political philosophy from which modern advocates for the welfare state draw their sustenance has the abolition of suffering as its explicit goal. I wish I could be confident in Yglesias’ read of his movement, but I see no reason why, absent tactical considerations, they should be satisfied with Obamacare.