Thursday, November 18, 2010

159. We want "big" where it helps us

How the argument is framed can sometimes cloud an idea, and it is unfortunate that so much time needs to be spent backtracking to explain what should be obvious. While there might be exceptions that I am not aware of, I do not think anyone really favors "big" government. It is all relative, and while it sounds good to campaign on a "small government," the truth is that everyone picks and chooses where they think government should be involved.

Some people support social services, others, infrastructure and national defense. Most favor socialist programs like Social Security and Medicare. Agribusiness and consumers enjoy the many subsidies that keeps food cost low, and most people support education. People want a free market version of capitalism, but then complain when it does not interfere enough to create jobs. Legislatures denounce government stimulus, but then take credit for it when it supports their district. Nearly everyone supports funding safety. Businesses hate regulations, unless those regulations protect their interests. Consumers hate the cost of regulations, unless it protects them from business. Finally, government is constitutionally bound to stay out of the realm of religion, to the dismay of many.

It gets to the point that these arguments become circular--a measure of grandstanding-that really does not offer any solutions to our biggest problems. It is purely political and nearly everyone questioned in this regard ends up conceding that point.

How big do I think government should be? I think it should be as small as it needs to be.

Americans spend 15 percent of their monthly budget on food-compared to Europe at 30 percent and Indonesia at 60 percent. Without government water subsidies, beef would cost about $35 per pound. Would small government people be willing to pay that for beef? (I love the idea . . . fewer animals would suffer, and people would be much healthier).

In 2009, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated the United States military budget at $663 billion. The next closest nation is China at about 100 billion; in fact, we spend more on our military than nearly the rest of the world--combined. By analogy, in a language some of us speak, we are worse than the New York Yankees. Yet, most small government people do not want to decrease our national defense, somehow convinced that it is necessary to protect our freedoms.

Most of us that favored healthcare reform did so for one reason--private insurance had become a failure. The public outrage should not be directed at the government for wanting to get involved on healthcare; they should be outraged at the insurance companies and employers that necessitated government involvement. Had they cared for people as much as they cared about profits, and not abused their power and let people die or go bankrupt, the idea for government healthcare would never have surfaced. Government steps in, or only should step in, upon market failure.

The argument is the same for environmental regulations. Every business that complains about the cost of government interference (such as the creation of the environmental protection agency) only has other businesses, those that abused the environment for profit, to blame. At some point, the government has an obligation to protect its citizens from wrongdoers.

Ditto for the financial industry, employment laws and consumer protection. And so on and so on.

Finally, in some instances, it just makes sense that everyone contribute for the betterment of society. When it comes to safety, such as police departments and fire protection, it is more efficient to be government controlled. Most were disgusted to learn about the house that burned down in Tennessee because the homeowners had not paid their subscription fee to the private fire department.

At the end of the day, the sad fact is that expansion of government beyond what it "should" be, such as some safety net social services, national defense and infrastructure, is a product of the failure of the American people. It is ridiculous that we need libraries full of laws and regulations to protect us from ourselves. If Americans could be counted on to live honest, fair and reasonable lives, we would not need so many rules. These rules exist to control the greedy and unethical, to set minimum levels of acceptable behavior and close loopholes. They exist because people lie, cheat, steal and exploit everyone and everything that is available for exploitation.

If we really want a small government, the answer is not a "feel good" blanket protest of taxes-for which people pick and choose taxpayer expenditures according to their own interests--the answer is the installation of basic human principles, such as kindness, consideration, hard work and humility, back into the American public. If people would simply act responsibly and occasionally put the interest of others ahead of their own, then maybe, finally, we could stop having this discussion.

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