Big Government: Myths and Realities

In this season of republican primaries there has been a lot of talk going on about how big government is strangling our economy. At the same time we are being told that the democrats are hell-bent on turning the U.S. into a european style socialist/welfare state. It is alleged that innovation and creativity is being stifled by the big government. The republican rhetoric, backed as it is by guns and bible, is rather loud and obnoxious. But that is no excuse to not look at the issue provided we do so with a dose of logic and reason thrown into the mix. Humbly I ask you to lend me you ear (or should it be eyes) and I promise to reveal you the real truth and shed some misconceptions along the way.

All right so the republicans would have us believe that the real cause of our current economic struggles is big government, over-regulation and over-spending being two main facets. It is a clever strategy to employ. Most people in U.S. are habitually suspicious of big government. It is a land of immigrants, most of whom came here to be free. Republicans know how to play on that emotion. Let us look at the issue of regulation first. I am sure there are some government agencies and laws that only have a nuisance value and need to be reformed. We have all encountered government bureaucracy at some point and it is a frustrating experience (DMV anyone?). In fact, government is synonymous with inefficiency. We naturally respond positively to the notion of trimming down the government.

 Be that as it may, we are fortunately not living the Kafkaesque nightmare of forms filled in triplicate to get even a simple task done. You would think that the talk of reining in big government would center around eliminating inefficiencies. Alas, the emphasis is on mindless de-regulation, ostensibly to help businesses. We are already being told to forget that the financial crisis was triggered by a lack of regulation, not because of over-regulation. Environmental regulation is another favorite topic in the regulatory saga; EPA is constantly derided by the republicans. Give me a break, do you know what happens when we do not force businesses to care for the environment. We only need to look at India and China to see the results of that policy. The irony is that the republican majority in the house has been primarily responsible for the inefficient government we have had to contend with for last year or so. It takes months for this current congress to pass legislation that could help the economy. Inaction due to bull-headed ideology trumping practicality passes off as reining in government I suppose. Their stance on social issues is even more hypocritical. Apparently more regulation is better when it comes to gay rights and women’s rights. So yeah, we cannot have people marrying who they want and women cannot have control of their own bodies but businesses can pretty much do anything.

Similarly muddled thinking is prevalent on the topic of taxation and spending. There obviously has to be a balance between the two. From republicans’ standpoint social safety net programs — unemployment, social security, Medicare and Medicaid, are the root of all evil. I will grant that we need to reform these programs. For example, increasing retirement age is something that has to happen, we are living longer on average. But these programs are not to blame for all our budgetary problems. We cannot forget that the two expensive wars, one somewhat justified and one completely unnecessary, we fought in the last decade contributed significantly to our current predicament. Any talk about cutting government spending must include cuts in defense spending in addition to cuts in government spending on social programs.

But I suppose it is too much to ask for lucid and rational thinking from present-day republican leaders. They are too busy chanting slogans given to them by the tea-party faithful. Mitt Romney is the only semi-decent candidate in their ranks and they are desperate to find an alternative to him. They have bought into their own spin to the point that the myth of big government is the only reality they can see. It will all end in tears.

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One comment on “Big Government: Myths and Realities

  1. Kapil

    Interesting piece. I’ve been a part of the bureaucracy, both federal and state. Hated every minute of it. It is the nature of government, like all else in life, to perpetuate itself. Different forces at work in a public entity are largely responsible for growth. In the private sector, growth equates to larger profits, and larger profits foster continued growth until changes in the nature of the economy step in and take control.

    Fifty years ago, we were a national economy. Today, we are in a world economy. Worldwide transportation and communications permit business to be spread out throughout the globe — wherever lowest costs can be achieved.

    In government, it is different. Employees in government can’t bargain for their salaries, based upon their indiviual worths. Employee unions enter into collective bargaining to set pay scales and ranges, and classified employees are paid according to their job classification and step in grade. A particular classification may have a set number of steps before the employee reaches the top of the pay scale for his or her class.

    So, the driving force is to improve the program and assume greater responsibility. Greater responsibility equates to a reclassification of the position to a higher grade. Then, as government entities strive to achieve administrative perfection in what they do, they refine the rules under which they operate, and the rules to be followed by whatever element of the economy they regulate. Then, more people are needed to administer the “enhanced” rules. That equates to greater numbers of departments or divisions to administer ever-increasing workloads. And so on.

    This happens nomatter which party is calling the shots. And it is fiendishly difficult to deal with. When you start downsizing and getting of unnecessary rules, you’re dealing with people who have a stake in preserving the status quo.

    There is no question that there are too many regulations. We certainly need regulation, but only that which is necessary and reasonable. In many areas, we are in a situation of regulatory overkill. In Tillamook County, the Kilchis River no longer drains into the bay. The original outlet to the bay is blocked by built up silt and debris. So the river drains into the Wilson near its mouth, and into the neighboring farmlands when rainfall is heavy. To dredge the mouth of the river to allow it to empty into the bay once again would take a virtually endless permitting process involving a plethora of state and federal agencies.

    Tillamook Bay is not as healthy as it once was, and is losing its capability to grow oysters. That’s because the bay is silted up to badly that it can no longer flush itself, and the benthos tends to become sour. The day will come when oystering will die out here and the county will lose yet another industry.

    But, to dredge out channels in the bay would require permits from some 19 or 20 different agencies, I am told. And, generally, these agencies don’t talk to each other. Each has its own agenda, and each tends to grow bigger as time goes on.

    These things grew during Republic and Democratic administrations. Come election time, the party in power is generally accused of creating the mess. And the word gets out to the public through sound bites with cherry-picked facts and material taken entirely out of context.

    Federal and state agencies should be sunsetted when they have served their purpose. That seldom happens. I believe that we still have agencies such as the Rural Electrification Commission which were created early in the 20th century that have served their purpose. So, you can see that the challenge of reducing the size of government is a Herculean challenge, and probably not something that can be completed during a single administration.

    Let’s just say that it is the goal of government to achieve administration so that it can operate in the least ineffecient manner possible.

    Sic transit gloria mundi.

    John S

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