We heard it for three straight days at the recent Republican convention. Our government is growing by leaps and bounds. It is grabbing more and more power threatening our liberty. It is intrusive, wasteful and inefficient. And more. Problem is most of these claims and contentions are simply not true. And a rational look at the facts may set them straight (although those who wish to believe them will likely not be swayed).
Moreover, ever since Reagan uttered his famous, “…government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”. The myth of an oversized, growing government has strengthened. This, followed up by Grover Norquist’s desire to “take government into the bathroom and drown it”, has further fueled and propelled the right to aggressively pursue their cause. In a sense, they are riding a wave of American history relating to suspicion of government – all governments. After all, our nation was founded on just such a proposition. Never the less, that does not alter the fact that their contentions about the current state of government(s) in America are overblown, exaggerated, and mostly untrue.
Why? Because they start with several false and clouded premises (along with a visceral hate of the current Obama government administration), so evasion of the facts is made easy. Like “which governments – Federal, state, or local, are too big or growing?” “Has the Federal civilian employment actually risen, shrunk, or stayed the same?” “Which services are not needed or are wasteful and inefficient?” And so on, with specificity sorely lacking, just the simplistic call for “smaller government”.
Let’s assume they are talking about the imagined growth of the Federal government. The facts are…it has NOT grown. In fact, in proportion to the population growth; or the natural growth of the labor market, it has actually shrunk. In 2010, there were about 2.7 million Federal civilian employees; at the time Reagan uttered his famous words, there were over 3 million – and despite his rhetoric, that number never really declined during his presidency. Translating this into dollars, the best indicator is the cost of government is as a percent of GDP (this has nothing to do with cash flow, taxes, or deficits); and that number has remained very constant over decades – usually about 22-24% of GDP, just as it is now. As a side note, about 40% of the budget is for military costs – a massive expenditure these same conservatives are reluctant to cut (see below).
Which brings us to the point of where the Federal government actually has grown; and it is really in only three general areas: Department of Defense (as noted above); Veterans Affairs; and Homeland Security. Which of these do conservatives wish to chop? The fact is, all other components of government have remained static, grown fractionally, or shrunk.
Well, since those who rail against “big government” might not get much traction on the Federal level, perhaps they want smaller government on the state and local level? Here too they will be surprised, because state and local governments have already been reduced by hundreds of thousands of employees (over 300,000 government jobs trimmed since the recession began in 2007), and you know about its effects from the virtually daily media reports in your community. Less teachers…bigger class sizes… fewer police, and sometimes longer response times… fire departments dangerously cutting staff…long delays in courtrooms…and longer waits for cursory services. Inefficient? You bet. Because it’s a self fulfilling prophesy pure and simple!
It’s also, a factor in our national unemployment rate, because terminated government employees are now among the unemployed seeking other work. 125,000 teachers alone now looking for new careers at the very time America needs to step up its education to compete in the new high tech international environment. If you do not think smaller class sizes, competent teachers and modern classrooms matter, then you do not really comprehend the ramifications of shouting out: "we want smaller government".
Two other quick facts on this subject, many conservatives wish to eliminate the cabinet level Department of Education. Aside from the wisdom of that, it would reduce the Federal budget by a mere one percent. As for entitlement programs, (and discussion of privatizing Social Security and/or Medicare); running the entire Social Security program costs about 3% in administrative costs; Medicare about the same.
One last thought about the way some “demonize” government. It is as though WE are the real citizens of America, and these government employees are some sort of strange breed apart from “normal citizens and taxpayers”. In fact…they are your neighbors and taxpayers as well. It recalls the famous Pogo quote: “we have met the enemy, and it is US!” Yes, the government in America is US – all of us.
So, before you continue to scream out, for "SMALLER GOVERNMENT", you might want to step back and get some facts relating to the true size and growth of governments at all levels. Then, I would suggest – you better be careful what you ask for. You might get it.