There is not necessarily economic harm from reducing government spending during a recession. Government spending cannot create wealth - it's always a money-losing proposition for the taxpayers, because distributing government money isn't 100% efficient and the government has no money without one or both of two tactics:
1) take money that could be used for wealth creation out of the economy by means of taxation
2) printing more paper money to offset the deficit, but that creates and maintains a vicious cycle. The money becomes less valuable, which means that the government has to print more of it, which makes it less valuable - etc.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
To summarize Vic, the problem with socialism (or Keynsian economic theory) is that eventually you run out of OPM (other people's money.
The less gov't is involved in the economy, the better.
Think about it this way. If the prez could prevent a recession or depression or just a downturn, don't you think he would? Wouldn't it be to his benefit to keep the economy going strong (think "It's the economy stupid.")
The only thing gov't can do for the economy is help or hurt it.
On the other hand, there are things that are the reason for government's existance, and that government is usually the best option.
1) Public safety. At the local level, that's fire, police, and EMS. At the state level, it's the state police, state fire marshal, state fire academy, state EMS, and the National Guard. At the federal level, it's the military, federal law enforcement, federal firefighting agencies, and FEMA.
2) Infrastructure. Roads, bridges, dams, levess, etc. If those were privatized, some areas would have a glut and some areas would have none.
3) Regulation. There should be a balance between free enterprise and naked, unfettered greed. Over-regulation kills business. Naked, unfettered greed kills jobs and the economy. Appropriate regulation strikes a balance without swinging to either extreme.
4) Protection of common pool resources. Common pool resources are things like bodies of water, air, and public lands. The government should protect these resources from harm or exploitation that benefits a few while harming or removing the ability to access the resource from the many.
There are others, but there are non-governmental ways to provide most - if not all - of those.
I do agree with about 99% of this statement as well Ben.
I also agree with your order of listing them, as public safety is and should be first and foremost in pols eyes.
Personally, I think taxes are still too high and spent mostly in the wrong places. And the priorities are all wrong as well. But as a taxpayer, I will still fight for public safety measures and not cutting the funding for them.
Ben, there is actually very little evidence that FDR prolonged the Depression. A single study has been published, and a ton of authors have linked to it, but the study is widely discreditied and basically ignores massive swathes of history to make it's point. Ironically, everyone seems to agree that WWII was what finally ended the Depression. That was arguably the biggest public works project in history.
Think about it: tons of people building stuff on the government's dime just to destroy it later. Keynes loved this sort of thing because it got money moving through the economy. Rosie the riviter builds an airplane, buying steel from US Steel, spending money on clothes and whatever, meanwhile her huband is in Europe, sending a paycheck home and consuming resources as fast as American factories can produce them, driving such demand the the government actually ended up rationing critical supplies! The "churn" of money through the economy got enough people moving and enough money in circulation that the Depression had no where to go.
That is the fundemental tennant of Keynesian economics: when the economy hits the dumper, you get it moving by going into debt. If you don't, the economy will take much longer to recover. The US economy is largly driven by consumer spending, which means if people are holding on to thier money, the economy won't recover (Keynes called this a "liquidity trap").
Hoover learned this the hard way, and America is currently having the same debate. The idea of cutting government now and laying off employees is suicidal, but the opposition party doesn't care, they just want to take back the White House.
Cutting taxes has never spurred economic growth. There has never been a case of trickle-down economics ever working. The commitment to top-down economics is based purely on idiology, not on any empirical evidence of it actually working. "Taxes suck" is a great political slogan, but at some point reality kicks you in the pants. Bush cut taxes nearly 25%, and look where it got us. Obama has cut taxes even further, and look how well that's working. We need to accept a bit more deficit spending (look to the bond market and inflation numbers, we can afford more debt at the moment) to get us out of the recession, BUT we need to then have the discipline at the other end of this to pay it back down so we can borrow again next time the economy goes south.