Monday, September 20, 2010

What does big government mean?

  Greetings I have had it! I have listened to people shout bumper stickers at each other and the other day one more person said "no more big government" and I had to start researching. I have started tables of data to show trends and yet I would really like to know.... what do you think "Big government" means and what should I count to see if it is big, bigger, less big or whatever?  Can you help. What do you think I should "count" as I try to define the size or "bigness" of government?

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Anonymous said...

What about size of military? The amount/percentage of people employed by government? Percentage GDP spent on government functions?

I'm fascinated by the fact that people often use the constitution, which is part of the government, as a weapon to fight against laws or policies from congress, the white house or other organs of the government.

Is a constitution that covers many domains of life and social values big government?

What about political structure and process enshrined in the constitution that is aimed at slowing the social and political change or advancement, could that also be big government in that it promotes a lethargic, seemingly inefficient bureaucratic beast of an institution that is in every way the opposite of a lithe, nimble decion making body? But isn't slow social change preferable to upheaval?

When regulation is called big government because it prevents the creation of monopolies that would dominate social and business sectors, are we simply choosing one large bureaucracy that we elect instead of a large bureaucracy that simply bought its way up the food chain?

Ok, so I probably haven't provided any answers, only more questions. The big government questions sort of like the pornography or good art question: we each believe we know it when we see it.

- Ano

Unknown said...

In fact, Ano, it helps. The financial stuff I have. And more to come. I like the regulation idea. I'd have to take a couple of examples or cases to see if there are more or less regulations and to see the extent that they make government bigger, smaller or same. A regulation content could seemingly do either
Number of laws passed? New law proposed about banning texting while driving at federal level that wold normally be done by states in past. Sort of a pre-empts states and possibly reduces their own tailored approach. Probably irritates people who don't like laws being made nationally and one that isn't enforced and might do better via a really good public service campaign and education.
In analysis so far I try to account for shifting jobs off Govt payroll to private contractors because both are paid by govt and take orders for govt. Thus, they may be accounted differently I keep them in the total.
Taxes brought in and debt.
More?? thanks I like it. It is fascinating esp to hear it used to often.
More ideas..... I can post some tables to start with if you are feeling blank.


Unknown said...

Jeff, per your comment on facebook -- the notion of "big government" as simply a pejorative term framed by one side of the issue. But it seems measurable in is own right-- by size. What is much more interesting is whether size is related to function. The discussion that is needed really is what do we want government to do. To simply demand--- esp in these times-- that it be smaller is odd and irrational. It is larger based on the work of Mr. Bush who enlarged it. It has become smaller in the last few years -- if we count # people. If instead we want to count dollars spent then it seems we have to account for the aging population, the larger population, the TARP and stimulus programs which were a bipartisan creation (ah how soon some try to forget history). But really, As the G. Lakoff says in "don't think about an elephant", The real issue is that we have framed the discussion as government being bad, taxes as bad from which we need relief. Yet, we have walked out onto the edge of spending -- 2 wars and an active terrorism program that was very expensive.Many of the commitments such as social security, health care that most people want are not intrusions by government into my life, they are government protecting me from large insurance companies that want money and then break the deal by getting out if there is need.
It seems odd to hate government since it is our own expression. But is it big enough to do what is needed? Not one ounce bigger? The image of it as moribund, wasteful and corrupt and thus possible to squeeze down to size and make up for all our indiscretions is absurd. The planet money team did a nice job of this recently but, alas, they didn't go far enough into "big government" so, I am chasing it down just because I cannot bear to hear such claptrap.