Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Era of Big Government must return

Almost thirty years ago, Reagan announced the government is not the solution to our problems, it is the problem. (Although to be fair to Reagan, it should be noted he began the statement with "In this situation", something modern-day Reagan-worshippers seem to have forgotten in their zeal to apply the eliminate government solution to every problem.) Over a decade later, Clinton announced "the era of big government is over." But now in response to the most far-reaching economic crisis since WWII, government leaders are frantically trying to expand government to address the problem while many in the public are wondering if government is capable of positive intervention in the economy...or asserting quite simply that it isn't.

This belief that government can not help doesn't square with history as I understand it. We Americans like to believe that we are as affluent as we are because we are hard-working, industrious, intelligent, virtuous, and generally deserving of our prosperity. But do we really think we are the first nation of good, hard-working, smart people? By necessity, most humans throughout history have been smart and hard-working...and very poor. Only in the last few hundred years has work been rewarded with prosperity and abundance, and only in a few nations. While these nations have been lucky to have significant natural resources in addition to smart, hard-working people, again they hardly seem alone in these respects. Countless nations in recent times have squandered significant natural resources.

The difference, in my opinion, seems to be democracy. Before the spread of democracy, monarchy was the rule. Government was very protecting the interests of the small group of people who had a voice in the government. Democracy changed that. In a democracy, government can not be small and efficient. It's inherent in the nature of democracy. Because in a democracy, the government's job is not to protect the narrow interests of a small group of people. The job of a democratic government is to protect the interests of ALL people. And as a result, democratic governments would seem inclined to grow rapidly.

In fact, in US history, as well as the history of most western nations, the democratically elected government has steadily expanded since the beginning of our nation and its democratic government. A small-government ideologue would be inclined to condemn democracy at this point. But consider what has come with the expansion of government. The history of the US has seen the creation of a large and affluent middle-class unlike anything ever seen in the history of the world. The expansion of government and the rise of the middle-class have gone hand-in-hand throughout the history of this country. It takes a big government to defend the interests of a large and affluent population. I am aware of no nation anywhere on earth in all of its history that has had a sizable and affluent middle-class without a government composing a significant portion of the economy. A survey of sizable nations with prosperous middle-classes would reveal the ideal government size is between 1/5 and 1/2 of the total economy. The US, of course, falls at the very low end of this scale. And our middle-class is currently the weakest it has been in many decades, and ranks near the bottom of industrialized nations in things like health, education, etc. I think this is more than mere coincidence. While it is certainly possible for a government to grow too large to be effective, and history gives no shortage of examples, it is clear from the data that an overly large government is not a danger to us right now. Our problems seem to arise from demanding government be too small to do its job of defending ALL the people effectively.

We need leaders brave enough to say, "At this moment, small government is not the solution to our problems, small government is the problem."


Post a Comment

<< Home