Cato: Back to 1912

Cato's Daniel Mitchell outlines his plan to return the United States to the levels of prosperity seen before the first world war:

The real issue is whether America would be a stronger and more prosperous nation if government was reduced to the levels envisioned by the Founding Fathers. America climbed from agricultural poverty to middle-class prosperity before the income tax was adopted, and federal government spending (with the exception of times of war) was a small percentage of GDP.

This seems like a bizarre way to argue. It's true, obviously, that the country was much more prosperous in 1912 than it had been in 1790, but it's grown far more prosperous still in the dread income tax era. Were the horse-and-buggy days really good enough for Mitchell? After all, without the need for paved roads we were able to keep the tax burden low, low, low. The near-total absence of useful medical technologies helped keep health care expenses low. And with the population ill-educated by contemporary standards and wage rates much lower than they are today, it was easy to run a school system on the cheap.