The Case Against Big Government

The arguments for small government are obvious and common sensical to many Americans. Henry David Thoreau (not Jefferson, as is often erroneously thought) said pithily: “That government is best which governs least.”

Resistance to larger government can be traced from America’s Founding Fathers all the way through to the avatar of modern conservatism, Ronald Reagan, who famously railed against big government. Reagan warned that:

  • “Government is not the solution to the problem; it is the problem.”
  • “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.’”

Reagan’s rhetoric is compelling because many Americans are predisposed to support smaller government for many sound reasons. Some of the most convincing arguments against big government include the following.

Big government curbs freedoms

Red Square military parade celebrating the 67th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War

Red Square – not exactly a beacon of freedom

For many Americans, “big government” is synonymous with “totalitarian police state.” According to this reasoning, the bigger the government, and the more power it has, the more likely it will rob individuals of their freedoms. Both conservatives and liberals can defend elements of the libertarian stance that unfettered big government can restrict an individual’s rights. Many conservatives, for instance, fear that the government wants to take away their gun ownership rights, even in the face of the Second Amendment. Meanwhile, many liberals see government efforts to restrict women’s right to abortion and birth control as Orwellian. And both conservatives and liberals worry about the government having seemingly all-pervasive surveillance powers.

Big government breeds inefficiency

Lockheed Martin F-35

Lockheed Martin F-35: $100 million *per jet*

Any sufficiently large organization will be bloated and slow, and larger government can’t serve the citizens of the United States efficiently. Anyone who has stood in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles, Social Security, or the Post Office has seen their share of slow-moving, surly bureaucrats in action. The military acronym SNAFU (situation normal, all fucked up) originated in World War II. It referred to the dysfunction common to the American military, and was memorably satirized in books such as Catch-22. Inefficiency in the U.S. Department of Defense is, if anything, worse today, with the DOD infamously paying $435 for a claw hammer, let alone $1.5 trillion for the F-35 fighter jet boondoggle.

Big government fosters corruption

Rod_Blagojevich_(June_2008)

Former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was sentenced to 14 years in federal prison for soliciting bribes

The bigger government gets, the harder oversight becomes, making corruption more likely. Corruption has indeed been present from the earliest days of government in the United States. Massive projects ranging from the transcontinental railroad to Teapot Dome to the Iran/Contra affair to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have all been marred by scandal. The closer humans get to overwhelming power and money, the greater the temptation to skim some off for yourself. Sometimes it’s not money but the will to power that leads to corruption. The biggest scandal of them all (so far)—Watergate, sprang from Nixon’s ambition to lead the biggest, most powerful government on earth.

Big government constricts economic growth

A Ford motor worker on the factory assembly line

A Ford motor worker

The taxes that government takes from businesses reduces their ability to invest in their workers and materials. Beyond taxes, regulations can make it harder to start a business, or to make it profitable. The combination of higher taxes and greater regulation (not to mention unions) has arguably driven manufacturing—and manufacturing’s comparatively secure, high-paying jobs—overseas. Plus, the government’s multi-trillion dollar debt has mortgaged the future of the country, and, by driving up interest rates, will limit business’s ability to grow.

Big government is, finally, immoral

Government should not coddle citizens with programs that take care of their food, housing, or medical expenses if they are to be truly independent and free. Doing otherwise is immoral because it prevents Americans from ultimately caring for themselves and their families. In the United States, we too often favor the “takers” over the “makers.”  

On the face of it, all of these arguments are common sense.

Which is why you may be surprised to learn that they’re wrong.

We will demonstrate the flaws in these arguments, and why a strong, effective, transparent federal government is healthy, moral, and essential to human freedom and flourishing.

We’re not the only ones making this argument, and we’re not going to make it in the abstract. We and scores of other contributors from both sides of the aisle will demonstrate, with concrete examples of the ameliorative power of government, why and how strong government helps make the United States and its citizens healthier, richer, and more moral.  

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