Public spending "provides the very foundation for a functioning free market economy"

In a blog post last summer, we took issue with the polarizing concept of “the government versus the private sector”.  We argued that you cannot have a vibrant, productive private sector without government undertaking a whole array of activities that serve as the foundation of a functioning economy and society: helping to educate our children and train our workforce; protect property and prosecute lawbreakers; enforce  patents, copyrights and torts; coordinate the response to natural disasters and outbreaks of disease; maintain and upgrade our roads and bridges; and protect our air and water quality, among many others.

We were pleased to find echoes of our argument in a column by State Treasurer Ken Miller, which appears in the Oklahoma Economic Report, a new monthly publication from the Treasurer’s Office.  The column, titled “Rightsizing Matters”, addresses the question of the appropriate size of government. Miller, a Republican who has a Ph.D. in Economics, offers a decidedly pragmatic take on government spending:

Government size and economic output are expected by many to have a negative association. Although public spending does displace private investment, it can also promote private sector productivity.

Some base level of spending on safety, infrastructure and education provides the very foundation for a functioning free market economy. Therefore, policymakers must consider both the positive and negative effects while seeking the government spending level that maximizes economic output…

The state appropriated budget is now at its lowest level in 30 years.  We may be at the point where we are no longer able to make the investments needed to educate our students and workforce, keep the public safe, and maintain our infrastructure. Miller doesn’t quite reach that conclusion: he focuses on the need to prioritize spending  and restore fiscal discipline. Still, he recognizes that government can get too small. With more budget cuts threatening to shrink state government further still, we hope lawmakers will take notice.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

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