Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Big Government?

The phrase "Big Government" gets kicked around so loosely, that I think it is worth considering its meaning. Wasn't it Bill Clinton who said the "era of Big Government" is over? In his case, it meant offloading government services to contractors. But that is really a cosmetic change at best. So what is is, and why is it so bad?

What do conservatives and Tea Partiers mean when they talk about "big government" , what do liberals mean? And aren't there good kinds and bad kinds of big government? And what government is too big? We have so many levels of government: Federal, State, Local.

There is no way that a country, the size of the US with a now new population of 357 million, can avoid big Federal government. It takes a lot of money and people to keep it running.

When conservatives talk big government, they are usually referring to Federal Government, Federal Spending programs (Medicare, SSI, Unemployment insurance, education funding, etc), the people who work and run those programs (too many civil servants and the unions that represent them), any form of regulation and the bodies that enforce them (EPA, FDA, IRS, etc.), stimulus spending to get the economy on track. These are the things liberals see as good kinds of government.

The inherent contradiction is that conservatives support big government by constantly voting for military spending, costly weapons programs, nanny state regulation (no abortions, no drug legalization, anti-sodomy laws, etc.), block grants to states who are then forced to build bigger government to meet the obligations, subsidies to private industry and key constituencies, etc. This, in turn, is what liberals mean when they talk "big government" and they see it as bad kinds of government.

Citizens, what's your take?


Raised By Republicans said...

I think you correct to say that "big government" is a negative term used to refer to "public spending which with I disagree."

I would add that the Republicans and conservatives tend to approve of government spending that benefits agricultural interests and the elderly.

According to this:

The five biggest budget items are: 1) Social Security (old people)
2) Health and Human Services (includes Medicare for old people)
3) Defense Spending
4) Treasury Dept (which includes the interest on the national debt).
5) Department of Agriculture

This suggests to me that when Republicans say they want to cut government spending they probably aren't really serious. There is no way a Republican would make a serious cut to any benefit to old people, the military or the agriculture sector and we cannot possibly make a serious attempt at cutting government spending without doing those things.

We don't get to a department that Republicans love to hate until #6)Dept of Education. Housing and Urban Development is #12.

If these spending priorities don't tell us that we are laboring under a Republican rather than a Democratic deficit I don't what would.

The Law Talking Guy said...

When I think of the 'size' of government I think not of the amount of dollars it runs through but its scope of economic and personal regulation. In those spheres, we have a pretty small government compared to most.

USWest said...

LTG, do you think that is a typical liberal interpretation? I am not saying you are a typical liberal, I am just asking if you think more liberal leaning people think that way?

RBR: Dems are also in the thrall of the elderly. Try getting any reform or change out of them on SSI.

Raised By Republicans said...

US West,

Of course you are right that the Democrats won't dare touch either Social Security or Medicare but they could at least be willing to cut defense and agriculture. And the Democrats would be willing raise some taxes which Republicans only seem to want to cut.

Really, I think if one is serious about deficit reduction, there is only one choice for your vote.

As for the size of government per se, it looks to me that if you look at what it is that really makes government larger (in objective measures like cost), it's benefits to the rural and elderly plus the military.

USWest said...

I don't disagree, RBR. My point in my post was that both parties like "big government", they just like it arranged differently.

You can cut the elderly, but barring some catastrophe, we will all be elderly one day. So some of this "pay for the elderly" is ensuring our, unavoidable, own future.

The same cannot be said for Big Ag. or the military. There I agree.

The key would be to cut health care costs. That would be more beneficial to the elderly than cutting current benefits. The inflation in benefits is, I bet, directly related to the increase in Medicare and SSI costs.

Then we could quit fighting wars. That would save us quite a bit of money. And fixing all the agency bloat that started after 9/11 would also help. It isn't just the military, it's the shadow military that takes up resources as well- the intelligence apparatus. And finally, do not penalize government agencies for returning unused funds. Reward them for managing their money well.

Look, Obama is giving a 2% payroll tax cut hoping people will spend it buying stuff. Bad news. They are going to pay for increased health insurance premiums, higher gas prices (Oil a $92 a barrel), and higher food prices (subsidizing ethanol).

Using your objective measure of cost, the government is only going to get bigger. (More people aging, shifting subsides to alternative energy, greater need for higher and higher levels of education, more and more security, more government regulators, etc.) That isn't so bad if revenues also get bigger. But for the moment, we are in a bit of a jam.

USwest said...

Oh, and as financial resources are becoming more scarce, the battles over how to allocate them will get bigger and uglier. And the look of government will change quite a bit as a result of these battles.