What’s Wrong with “Big” Government?

Written by Robert Justin Lipkin on August 10th, 2009

Americans have been wary of too much government from the Republic’s inception. We fought a revolutionary war against tyranny, twice within the first fifty years of our great nation’s existence, and several times thereafter. And government, our government, was a lot smaller then. But is anyone else getting tired with the inbred American aversion to progressive governmental efficiencies which can bring about the goods and services Americans want and need and which justice requires? After all, we, the people are, in the final analysis, the government. Accordingly, the government should be as capacious as we, the people want it to be. If we want government to be involved in health care, the economy, the financial system, the environment, education, well, then it should be.  That’s what a republican democracy is for, to wit: within the confines of constitutional constraints, here the people rule. Unfortunately, this inbred American aversion goes back as far as our first great President and perhaps made special sense then. ctmpphpgsEIRqConsider the following statement of the debate over whether we should have a bicameral legislature. “[A] bicameral legislature slowed down the legislative process. That was a good thing to many of the framers, who worried about excessive government power.  When Thomas Jefferson questioned the role of the Senate in the 1790s, George Washington allegedly asked:  ‘Why did you pour that coffee into your saucer?’ ‘to cool it,’ said Jefferson.  ‘Even so,’ replied Washington ‘we pour legislating into the senatorial saucer to cool it.'” Linda R. Monk, The Words We Live By: Your Annotated Guide to the Constitution (2003).  But in cooling it, we risk seeding the ground for killing it. Sure sometimes that’s good.  But it’s also good to have a lean self-governing process to which the majority–consistent with preserving minority rights–can have access.  Absent such a viable process, well-funded special interests control the destiny of the American Republic. In these circumstances, the corporations rule, not the people.  That can’t be good for the majority of Americans, can it? I know, I know, the founders created a Republic, not a Democracy. But is this distinction quite as useful as perhaps it once was, if it ever was?.  Most Americans want to live in a self-governing polity where the right to self-government–collective-self-direction–permits us to achieve the benefits of our labor–everyone’s labor–and also the benefits of civilization. Several times in American society the private sector has been given its chance and each time the results were problematic at best at least for most Americans.  I know, I know. American capitalism produced more economic growth than any other nation or system and is currently the envy of and the model for the world. But what has it done for us lately. And what do we call “economic growth without fair distribution”? Perhaps, pre-2007 capitalization has huffed and puffed it’s way out.  Moreover, privatization only occurs in the context of law and law means government. So the private sector is just one of several forms of government. Those ideologically committed to the government of privatization usually are indifferent to the needs and aspirations of the highly variegated forms of American life. Big government is not the problem. Oppressive government is.  And laws protecting the private sector and corporate power while preventing the little guys from effecting change can be as tyrannical as any despotic regime.  As Paul Krugman puts it: “[S]ometimes the private sector is the problem, and government is the solution.”

Can’t we try dropping the jejune dichotomy between government and the good guys and see if we can solve our problems fairly and with the common good in mind? Let’s switch to what should have been our ethos all along–democratic capitalism–where the reflective majority will prevails over those whose self-interest prevents them from seeing beyond the narrow corridors of their own insulated hermitages.


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