Economy & Policy

Big Government Versus Small Government: Which One Is Ideal For The United States?

The term “great government” elicits many images and emotions, and they are generally negative. Words like “bureaucratic”, “inefficient”, “intrusive” and even “corrupt” are often associated with the term. Economists claim that big government interferes with the mechanisms of free enterprise. Libertarians believe he seeks to control private or personal freedoms guaranteed by the “natural law” eloquently philosophized by John Locke and formalized in the United States Constitution’s Bill of Rights. And politicians claim that big government lacks checks and balances on the exercise of power, leading it to represent special interests to the detriment of its citizens.

On the other hand, it is generally believed that a small administration leads to a more efficient and flexible system. “Get the government out of us” or “get the government out of the way” are cries to revert to the low tax, unregulated beliefs of the American Revolutionary Period. The size of government envisioned by the country’s founders sought to shake off tyranny and empower small entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs.

The small government was best summed up by the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and third President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, when he said: “This government is the best that governs less, because its people. discipline itself. Meg Whitman, former CEO of eBay, current CEO of Hewlett-Packard and former Republican candidate for governor of California, described her as “setting a few rules and getting out of the way. Keep taxes low. Create an environment conducive to the growth and prosperity of small businesses. ”

“Small government” is the mantra of patriots, conservatives, hippies and progressives, but what do the terms “big government” and “small government” really mean?

Positions in political parties

Republicans and Conservatives have effectively captured the role of protectors and advocates of “little government”, leaving Democrats and Liberals to grapple with the pejorative connotations of “big government.” Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate in 2012, defined the best government as “small,” implementing policies that “extend the freedoms (of its citizens), broaden their opportunities, allow them to keep more of what they earn , give them better education, they allow them to choose their own health care and abandon the free enterprise system to create more jobs. ”

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s version of the role of government, detailed in the first presidential debate, included protecting America and creating “ladders of opportunity and frameworks where the American people can succeed.” The President went on to say that “if all Americans have the opportunity, we will all be better off. It does not restrict people’s freedoms. It enriches him. ”

Although 62% of Americans believe that “the federal government controls our lives too much,” according to a 2012 Pew Research Center report, in reality, “big” and “small” government are subjective terms. Definitions change depending on who defines them.

The four major defense contractors in 2010 (Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp, Boeing, Raytheon), which total nearly $ 45 billion in government purchases, would hardly complain that our government is too big, nor communities affected by Hurricanes Katrina or Sandy, who requested and received considerable government assistance. Most agree that the interstate highway system, the Internet, and the amazing medical discoveries of the 20th century were only possible with the support and leadership of the federal government.

On the other hand, a businessman struggling against the new regulations, or a smoker who is forbidden to light up in public and forced to pay exorbitant taxes to satisfy his habit, or a landlord forced to give up smoking. a right of way on the future Keystone. Pipeline XL is likely to believe that the government is too big and threatens your freedoms. For every complaint about government excesses, there is a fair response that wants the government to do more.

The preference of citizens for an activist or a small government depends on several factors, including political party, age, education, physical location and the direct consequences of government action or inaction on their population. life.

  • Republicans generally prefer limited government. As evidenced by its 2012 party platform, which spells out the party’s goals of “making government work, making it smaller and smarter … by minimizing taxes, litigation and regulation,” the Republican Party has clearly adopted government as its mantra. The Democratic Platform, on the other hand, pleaded for a stronger government that “stands up for the hopes, values ​​and interests of workers and gives all who are willing to work hard the opportunity to realize their God-given potential. “.
  • The government should do more to fix the problems. This is the attitude of 59% of Americans aged 18 to 29, while a similar majority (58%) of people 65 and older think the role of government should be reduced.
  • Opinions vary among college graduates based on specific social or financial issues. According to opinion polls, college graduates are more likely to favor government restrictions on guns and protected borders, and they are more tolerant of different lifestyles and policies around legal immigration. Yet paradoxically, they generally prefer to maintain and strengthen the social safety net of benefit programs, including Social Security and Medicare, while limiting federal restrictions and regulations on doing business.
  • Citizens residing in densely rural and less populated states prefer a small government. These citizens are generally conservative, less dependent on visible public services, and more likely to believe that personal freedom, individual responsibility and moral principles are under attack by intrusive government action.
    Self-interest is of the utmost importance, regardless of the belief system. Regardless of one’s beliefs, self-interest invariably outweighs the responsibility or obligation of the community. Those in favor of limited government may protest when entrepreneurs sell unsafe products or bankers make risky investments with depositors’ funds. Those who advocate for an activist government may be angered by restrictions on air travel or by what they see as exorbitant personal income taxes.

Factors affecting the role and size of government

Government is the system by which a society formally regulates the interactions and economic and social activities of the individuals who make it up. The role, scope and impact of government are directly affected by various factors:

1. Population density

Government tends to grow as the number of people ruled increases. Helen Ladd, economist and professor of public policy at Duke University, confirmed that increasing population density leads to increased demand for public services and public spending per capita. In 1970, the American population was 205 million people with a total public expenditure of 322 billion dollars ($ 1,571 per capita). In 2010, the country had reached a population of nearly 309 million inhabitants with a total public expenditure of 3,600 billion dollars (11,662 $ per capita).

Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once wrote: “The right to move the fist ends where the other’s nose begins. As we live closer, the distances between the noses of other citizens are reduced, increasing the need for a government to protect both our rights and our noses.

2. Size and complexity of the economy

The degree of industrialization affects the role and size of government in any country. Although Spain and Colombia have similar populations of around 46 million inhabitants, Spain, a member of the European Union, is more industrialized than the agrarian and mining economy of Colombia, which is geographically more vast. In 2010, Spain’s public spending exceeded $ 672 billion, while Colombia’s public spending was less than $ 98 billion.

Likewise, the United States at the start of the 20th century, when it was less industrialized and more dependent on agriculture, had total government spending of less than 7% of GDP. In 2013, however, total public spending will reach almost 40% of GDP, reflecting the fundamental change in the country’s population and economic structure. In 2010, the US economy ($ 14.59 billion) was larger than the combined economies of China ($ 5.93 billion), Japan ($ 5.46 billion), India ( $ 1.73 billion) and Russia ($ 1.48 billion).

3. Interaction with other countries

New York Times columnist Thomas L. Friedman said in his book “The World Is Flat” that “technological and political forces have converged, and this has produced a Web-enhanced global playground that allows for multiple forms of collaboration regardless of geography. “or distance, or soon, even language. “Although our country’s role in foreign activities has been debated since its inception – ‘isolationists’ versus ‘imperialists’ – technology, ease of capital formation, cross-border movements and the growth of multinational organizations have made the almost obsolete argument.

Countries and governments today are forced to respond to the globalization of terror, economic competition, intellectual property and energy with increased government activity to protect their interests. In 2010, our national budget of $ 3.6 trillion was more than double that of China’s $ 1.7 trillion. From 2006 to 2011, U.S. defense spending increased from $ 624.8 billion to $ 817.7 billion. In contrast, China’s defense budget was $ 35.1 billion in 2006, and grew to $ 91.5 billion in 2011, reflecting China’s growing presence in global relations.

4. Social goals and beliefs

As basic needs such as food, shelter and clothing are met, there is increasing pressure to devote more resources to services that citizens cannot easily coordinate on their own. This includes an inclusive labor market, good schools for children, a comfortable retirement for the elderly and a strong social safety net for all. Adolph Wagner, a 19th century economist, first put forward the idea, now known as Wagner’s Law, that government tends to grow as society gets richer. The growth of social services alongside the US economy seems to confirm Wagner’s hypothesis.

Ideal government

In December 2012, the sponsors of the nonprofit TED, a conference / community of people dedicated to their “Ideas Worth Spreading” mantra, posed the question “What would your ideal system of government look like? Responses included:

  • The one where decision-makers advance on the basis of their productivity, and not on the basis of their desire to “distribute wealth”.
  • The simpler, the better. Modernize the Constitution. Limited regional representation rather than state representation to make government more transparent and accessible.
    The Constitution should be rewritten every 20 years to adapt it to current needs and developments.
  • A party. Its simple purpose would be to uphold the laws of our original Constitution and provide military defense against external threats.
  • Citizens wishing to vote should first take a test of knowledge of current events and candidate programs. An ideal government would have higher taxes, more social support, education, health care, guaranteed food and housing, and fewer incarcerations.
  • No government is truly ideal.

Over the centuries, philosophers have often defined “ideal government” in similar terms. Plato, writing in Greece around 400 BC. C., said: “The punishment for wise men who refuse to participate in government is to live under the government of worse men. On the other hand, Dean Acheson, Secretary of State during Harry S. Truman’s presidency, complained in a 1971 interview: “People say if Congress was more representative of the people, it would be better. I say Congress is too representative. He is as stupid as the people; Just as uneducated, just as stupid, just as selfish. ”

Last word

The terms “big government” and “small government” are more likely to reflect the attitude of the individual than the actual size or role of our current government. The foundation of democracy, the form of government in which every citizen has an equal voice in decisions that affect their lives, is compromise, an outcome in which no one gets exactly what they want, but everyone gets. Something. This is both the advantage and the defect of the system under which Americans have lived for more than two centuries. Most would agree that our government, despite its shortcomings, has served the nation well.

What do you think is the ideal role of government?

Back to top button