Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Big Government


I was having a discussion the other day and a friend made some comment about ‘big government” when referring to some government action he didn't like. It occurs to me that we really need to think a bit more about this term, “big government”.

First, we have four levels of government in this country—town, county, state, and federal.  From having worked with all four levels (in addition to working with governments of others countries) I have concluded that there are significant variations in the relative competence displayed by each of those four levels, with the county and state being at the bottom.  But any of the four could be described as “big”, and certainly the four in combination qualify for that term.  We have a lot of government in this country. But, to be fair, we have a lot of people—pushing 320 million at this stage.  If we don’t want anarchy (Rand Paul notwithstanding) we need government at several levels.

We also need government to provide many of the services we require to exist as a civilized nation—education, roads, defense, home security (policing, et al), protecting us from commercial predators, and the many other issues that require intervention on our behalf. So, yes, we have and need a lot of government.

But the term is used often to describe some policy or rule we don’t like. And often, the folks who use the term do so by decrying the “bureaucrats” who carry out the policies of government.  In fact, most of the stuff we don’t like has been conceived by one segment of that “big government”—the elected officials at each of the four levels.  It’s even a bit mind-blowing, when I hear an elected official—generally someone at the state or federal levels, blowing off steam by yelling about “big government”.  This is a common cry now in republican circles. While trying desperately to get onto that federal titty-sucking, they yell about big government, by which they mean all the “other guys” sucking on the federal titty.

Mainly, I have come to understand that “big government” really is elected officialdom at whatever level.  It used to be that the feds—i.e., Congress—were really the target of that term. The more obnoxious the action, the more disgust accompanied the “big government” expletive.  In recent years, however, the Supreme Court—I now refer to them as “Tony and the Supremes” to denote that most corrupt justice of all time, Tony Scalia, and his “houseman” Clarence--has entered the realm of "big government". Their Citizens United ruling that gave our government over to big commerce (see the Koch brothers and Sheldon Adelson) has almost destroyed the concept of a true representative democracy in our country.  So, does that square with the term “big government”?  It does, in my view, but it now means something different. It means that our government is being directed by a very small group of super wealthy commercial beings, much as we might imagine the old systems of royalty. The various kings, dukes, et al were still “big government” entities, but the folks they ruled didn't have much say. It’s getting that way again and “big government” per se has very little to do with the ultimate decisions that are made.

So, we need to rethink this term and the underlying concept of “big government”.

First, “big government” has relatively little to do with the thousands of working stiffs who work every day in the various halls of government, and carry out the whims of their elected officialdom bosses.

Second, if we don’t like the results of some policy/law that has been written and voted upon by our elected officials, we need to tell them about our dislike. We do that in two ways. First, we vote and we tell them by voting the rascals out of office when we don’t like what they produce. Second, we write or call or e-mail them to tell them we don’t like what they are doing.  If we don’t speak up, or we don’t vote, we don’t get to complain.


So, maybe it’s time to retire the “big government” epithet. As I have noted in the past, our government is only as big as we agree to make it. Second, my view is that most things that grow very large become both inefficient, and often behave in stupid ways—see “big banks”, big oil companies, big airlines, big commerce in general. Remember, when banks become “too big to fail” they are also too big to exist and should be broken up. That’s when we need “big government” to intervene and break them up.  See, we often need “big government” to protect us from our own worst instincts, which include placing too much trust in “big commerce”.
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