Okay, we are gonna form two lines – the first line is for all those who want big government. The second line is for all those that want smaller government. Which line are you going to get into? As usual, I can’t go along to get along. I think the question is a false dichotomy. What is a small government going to do? Can a small government pay out adequate Medicare and Medicaid benefits? Can a small government make sure that the children’s health insurance programs cover all kids in need? Can only big government do that? If I get arrested for “eyeballing” in the Deep South can small government protect me? Is it possible to get any liberal or any conservative to define how much smaller government has to be before it can be defined as small government? When did our government become big government? What did the government start doing in the late 50’s or early 60’s which allowed folks to define it as big government?
It seems to me that it is incredibly subjective to try to define these terms, yet conservatives will argue that the government is too big. When Reagan escalated the arms race by pouring billions of dollars into Star Wars and growing the size of government, was the government too big then? Most conservatives would say no. Most would argue that Reagan’s escalation of the size of government resulted in the collapse of the Soviet Union and therefore this was a great outcome for the United States. Okay, but was that big government? You can’t get a straight answer from conservatives on this point. If you delve further into the question by looking at the presidency of George W. Bush and ask about the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and the unchecked spending that was associated with this, was this big government? You get a sheepish look from conservatives, but again you can’t get a straight answer. When the Patriot Act was passed and we found out that the government obtained new powers, was this big government? Some conservatives may say yes. When the FISA law was rewritten to include wiretaps of overseas e-mail and telephone conversations, was this big government? Some conservatives would say yes. Neither one of these last two actions really grew the size of government, but all the sudden the definition changed from size to scope.
If we ask conservatives about George W. Bush’s bailout of Wall Street when we threw trillions of dollars at just a handful of companies and asked them to stabilize the economy, was this big government? Again, many conservatives would say yes. So, this is the root of the problem. This is the root of the angst. It has to do with breaking free market principles, which to some conservatives are sacrosanct. Let’s not pretend that it’s more than it is. It is conservatives’ unhappiness about the fact that free-market principles were not followed. Okay. I’m sorry you’re not happy.
I need a government that’s big enough and bold enough to stimulate the economy and get us out of this recession (see the above graph). I need a government that’s going to be able to protect my rights whether I’m white, black, Indian-American or whatever. I need a government that can help protect my food supply. I shouldn’t have to be wary of every hamburger and every leaf of spinach that I eat. I need the government to keep a manufacturing line so that my food supply is safe. I should be able to swim in a local stream without worrying about its spontaneously catching on fire. I should be able to breathe the air in cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles, Denver and New York without worrying about flareups of asthma and other respiratory diseases because of smog and other pollutants in the atmosphere. I need my government to be big enough and bold enough to prevent a national Ponzi scheme with home mortgages. I need my government to be big enough and bold enough to insist that companies pay a living wage. I need my government big, bold and efficient. Cut waste. Don’t cut effectiveness.
If you’d like to see what small government looks like, think about what we’ve seen in Colorado.
Below is a graph of government consumption and investment as a percentage of potential GDP. This graph really makes it look like Reagan ushered in the era of big government. It also makes it look like a Democrat, President Bill Clinton, shrank the size of government. Wow.
Paul Krugman has more.