Americans have a funny way of thinking about big government and government benefits: “big government is only bad when it doesn’t help me specifically,” and, “my stuff from the government are benefits, everyone else’s are welfare,” are two examples that we see quite a bit. The truth is Americans don’t really want small government, we just wont admit it.
The National Review’s Mona Cheren points this out:
[National Affair’s John J] DiIulio writes: “Add our annual debt per capita (about $49,000 in 2011) to total annual government spending per capita (about $20,000 in 2011), and we have a rough ‘big government index’ of nearly $70,000 for every man, woman, and child in this country.”
The difference between Americans and Europeans is that we aren’t honest about our appetite for big government. We hide it through a variety of proxies, private contractors, and public-private partnerships. Leaving aside the Department of Defense, which employs 3.2 million Americans, government employs more than 20 million civil servants. Only 2 million of those are full-time federal workers.
I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment about being honest about our desire for government. I feel that we should always talk about government benefits as either all, “benefits” or “welfare.”
Americans prefer small government to big government — in the abstract. But 60 million receive Medicaid benefits; 54 million collect Social Security; 48 million participate with Medicare; 45 million receive food stamps; 7 million are in prison, in jail, or on parole or probation; more than a million have de facto government jobs working for defense contractors; nearly a million children participate in Head Start; and about 40 percent of K–12 students receive free or reduced-price meals. There’s some overlap in those categories, but it still adds up.
Taking a government check goes down much more easily when you can persuade yourself that you’re only withdrawing money that you have faithfully paid in over the course of a lifetime. Indignant elderly callers to C-SPAN constantly invoke the “I paid for my Social Security” myth. They didn’t. The average beneficiary will receive far more in Medicare and Social Security benefits than he paid for in taxes.
Now, what this article attempts to do is fight the old fight of “big government vs. small government,” in which it fails spectacularly. Its difficult for the right to admit that their agenda is highly unpopular because Americans don’t actually want small government, but this piece does it. Unless we have small government Republican dictator, we are never going to shrink because people don’t want a small government.
What conservatives ought to do is focus on fighting complex government instead. I wrote about this yesterday. Look at the complexity caused by our refusal to admit we want big government. Our government services are a piecemeal of, “proxies, private contractors, and public-private partnerships.” How efficient could we be if our services were out in the open, like in Europe, and directed in a more effective manner to solve specific problems? Much more. Complex government is more expensive than big government because of administrative costs.
More to come.