I disagree with Hightower.

What you will find here is: a centrist's view of current events;
a collection of thoughts, arguments, and observations
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Saturday, October 26, 2013

Big Government vs Small Government (2)

In the first part of this discussion of Big Government vs Small Government I mostly talked about our need for, yet fear of, government in general.  I talked about the fact that the fundamental differences between liberals and conservatives can, in some ways, be boiled down to this one concept.

Now let's take a look at this concept of small government and the benefits thereof.  The first problem in trying to discuss this is one of definition.  What qualifies as a small government?  I'm sure one could write a book on that subject, but not this one.  It would help if we could look at examples of governments that are clearly small.  It seems to me, looking around the world, that small governments are found in countries that could best be described as third world ones.    And in those countries it appears to me that government is largely ineffectual and corrupt, benefiting a relative few.    I generalize, but I can't really think of a country, that has what all would agree is a small government, that doesn't show those attributes.

Perhaps an example that we would be most familiar with is Afghanistan.  The long running war we have been fighting there keeps developments in our news.  It is apparently a small government fan's paradise.  Not much government interference.   But the drawbacks of having an ineffectual government there are clear and well known.

I don't tend to worry much about "big government".  Nor am I a proponent of "big government".  I am a proponent of "big enough government".


  1. Are we discussing big government or lack of a limited government?

    1. That is a good and fair question. It's a long way from no government to unlimited government. There are almost infinite places between those two extremes where we can be and still not have unlimited government. My post was a look at the actual size of government, in terms of programs, to say that we should not let generic rhetoric regarding "big government" enter in to our decision-making with regard to the use of the government to provide for a particular service. Each should be considered by the electorate on their own merit. In a country with unlimited government the citizens don't get to decide anything so my point would moot in that situation.

  2. Bruce, I think you are right that “big” and “small” are not the attributes of government that concern us, but are rather euphemisms for “provides a lot of services” and “provides a limited number of (not so costly) services”.

    When Jefferson said, “That government is best that governs least.” he was living in a world where almost no one actually got anything good from a government. Once “the people” get control of a government it starts to become less the enemy and more the supporter. But the possibility of the tyranny of the majority is still there.

    I also agree with you that the government does a lot of things well although in some areas of the country public safety is better than it is in others. In fact if you made up a list of the things that it does I expect you and I would both support an overwhelming majority (by dollar amounts of the cost) of them.

    The problem that I have with conservatives is that I want more government than they do.

    The problem that I have with liberals is that they:
    1. want more government than the people are willing to pay for,
    2. borrow the money from their grandchildren to pay for it,
    3. trick themselves into believing that that 1 and 2 are not true,
    4. refuse to acknowledge that they are robbing Peter to buy Paul’s vote, and
    5. get furious if you point out number 4 and call you an extortionist.

    So what kind of government do I want?
    I want a government that is
    1. fairly large (30-40% of GDP),
    2. honest about and willing to tax more or less the amount that it is spending, and
    3. recognizes that when it takes money from Peter to improve Paul’s chances in the world, it is reducing Peter’s freedom (to spend his money).

    The short version is that I want the amount of government for which the people are willing to be taxed.

  3. I think we're really close on this one. I think your conclusion is sound. But if we assume that the current level of revenues is what the people are willing to be taxed then we are spending about a trillion over and above what the people are willing to be taxed. So, if we agree on that, where in the world do we cut a trillion?

  4. WRT to “where in the world do we cut”. I suspect we can have some lively discussion on this topic, but first a checkpoint please.

    Are we all agreed that government spending should not exceed revenue on a permanent basis (I make exceptions for loans, bonds, etc. that have a realistic, defined, and finite repayment plan)?

    Mindful of a recent post that was perceived as a “trap” I will say that I would interpret agreement with the previous statement as a mandate to identify and implement spending cuts or identify and implement additional revenue sources, or a combination of both.

    p.s. I think Americans will accept a higher tax burden in exchange for more government “husbandry”. I see no tax revolt on the horizon.

  5. 2nd paragraph, I most certainly agree.
    3rd, agree (and I very much appreciate your detail wrt what I am agreeing to)
    PS, I really wish I felt that things were as straight-forward as you have stated them. I would say that the Tea Party seems very much like at least the beginnings of a tax revolt. Time will tell.

  6. Here are a few things that come to mind for cutting government expenditures (even as much as a $1T)

    Where I would look at (meaning seriously consider reducing or eliminating) cutting government spending:

    1. All subsidies/tax code expenditures/grants/government loans
    2. All foreign aid
    3. All government committees
    4. Welfare reform (Clinton had it about right)
    5. Other Entitlement reform to include:
    a. Entitlements for citizens only (let me state that I make an exception for health and child care, nothing more.)
    b. All entitlements would have to be individually self sustaining and linked to a revenue stream (no general funds).
    c. EBT cards could be used only for purchasing approved STAPLES (i.e no soda, no happy meals, no prepared food, no candy, no cash, no exceptions)
    d. Qualifying requirements for entitlements would be strengthened and enforced.
    e. Retirement age for SS benefits would be increased 1 year every 5 years until the SS revenue, SS payouts, and actuary tables indicate the program is financially stable.
    f. Ditto item e. for Medicare.
    6. A 2 year program that requires:
    a. The average government benefit package (by profession) for employees cannot exceed the average benefit package in the private sector for the same profession.
    b. The average staff requirements for tasks in the government sector cannot exceed the staff requirements for similar tasks in the private sector.
    7. Prohibition of earmarks on legislation.

    Given King like powers I think an Iaccoca or a Reagan could make this happen in 4 years of less and reverse the grown of the national debt. In real life I don’t think any of this is going to happen.

    WRT – the Tea party and taxes. In 2009 and 2010 I would have agreed that the Tea Party was a major influence and would have revolted against more taxes. Today my acquaintances that identify as supporting the Tea Party movement feel the war is lost. They are no longer in denial about defeat. They lost and most feel it is a permanent loss.

  7. Good list of items that should be seriously discussed. I worry about the affects of removing that much money from the economy too quickly, but I really like your list a lot. Have you thought about running for office?

    WRT the Tea Party I don't doubt what you say. So why are so many Republicans in Congress so fearful of being "primaried"?

    1. WRT – Tea Party movement. Just echoing the sentiment in my circle of friends. Still if the TP was a major influence Obama would not have won last November. There is also the sentiment that if Texas goes Blue it is game over.