While official Washington tries to sort out just how much borrowed money to spend on more government, George Mason University economist Tyler Cowen wonder why there hasn’t been more debate on the question behind all the dollar signs: is Joe Biden’s plan a good idea?

Cowen writes that in the recent past, there were long, public debates about spending. Now the question isn’t about how and why to spend. It’s about which party benefits:

Another possibility, more depressing yet, is that the main debate is now about political power and tactics, rather than policy per se. Squabbles over symbols are more common than disagreements over substance, and the influence of various interest groups matters more than the strength of any argument.

There has been debate over what constitutes infrastructure – the slimmed-down (but still costly) trillion dollar or so infrastructure bill – approved in a senate compromise – spent time deciding what “infrastructure” means. The resulting remains a hodge-podge of government excess and waste. But there’s the cold comfort that it’s smaller than originally proposed, and more focused.

As for the rest of the proposed spending…Cowen has a stronger point. For example:

The Biden administration also has a “free college” plan, which would require significant expenditure increases from many state governments. I am a college professor, and hang out with many other college professors. Yet somehow this proposal has not once taken over our conversations.

If spending now is reduced to political winners and losers, then we’ve lost the thread. Yes, every budget bill is a political statement. But we don’t have to take statements at face value. Have the debate. Make the pols squirm. It will be good for them, and us.