Only time and the internet will decide what the '00s are to be known for, but governal growth is likely to be on the list. From the Department of Homeland Security to the bailout, the federal government acquired during the last decade previously unfathomable new powers.
In a world where over half of the largest 100 economies are corporations, liberals tend to be optimistic about bigger government. Individual states will bend over backwards for big business, but the federal government is still there to mandate civil rights, bring lawsuits on the negligent, and create an EPA or a Food and Drug administration every now and again.
But when does the consolidation of power go too far? Jeffery Sachs's column in Scientific American for this month is all about Obama's politics of making policy. Basically, he argues that Obama has made progress at the expense of public participation and transparency. All major policies have come out of lobby-infested back rooms, with as little detail available to the public as possible.
A Dutch relative of Flame's said, "You can't have too much democracy" (by which he actually meant that California, where he's been living, did have too much). He wanted power in the government to be in the hands of the knowledgeable, not of the popular.
And yet, mechanisms that put competent people into power can exist, and be healthy or corrupt, in either a democracy or a meritocracy. The flaw of the meritocracy is that it's a closed system: those in power build not only the rungs of power that others climb, but also the doors. No "government system"-- whether social democracy, communism, or what have you--stands alone: culture, institutions, and media all play overdetermined and determining roles. For democracy to work, it needs to be founded in an educated populace, but if it has it, it can maintain itself against ever new abuses.
Obama is playing a game of means and ends, at an unknown expense. The IPCC made it clear that we needed to either reverse environmental trends this year or face cataclysmic climate change. Instead, Obama decided that recessions are a good time to beat up Afghans. Meanwhile, the money influences that Obama is courting with his approach are going to be backed into whatever laws get passed.
I'd like to believe that some progress by any means is better than none, but it's probably not true. The core of democracy, progressivism, and humanism is the empowerment of all people. Obama's policy progress is aiding by disenfranchising. It assumes that we will not be inspired by radical proposals, that we cannot appreciate the reasoning behind compromises, and that it would be a mistake to try to educate us. Ultimately, it further saps the one biggest resource upon which the continued functioning of our government is based: public knowledge.