Why I Believe In Big Government

As a registered Republican, I used to believe--until quite recently actually--in "small government." I was fully bought-in to the concept that larger government equals less freedom and that it's just better to keep the government out of things. And while I'm sure that this principal is true in particular areas of economics and industry, I have come to the revelation that in general, I no longer believe that this is true.

The power of government does not disappear when government is taken out of the equation. The fact is it's just transferred to someone else. For example, if government is not regulating food quality, if the government is not legislating and implementing laws to protect us from bad food and giving regular people a say in the process through democracy, then that responsibility will fall to someone else, even if it is neglected. So to whom would it fall? Perhaps, to the food manufacturers themselves, the corporations who control that market. And the only accountability system would be in the system of consumption. Only the consumer would be able to hold the corporations accountable, voting with their wallets, and so only those with wallets would be represented in the system. This sort of system is primarily capitalistic but it's not democratic.

Democracy, at it's best, is about giving voice to everyone. It's about giving citizens a say in their society without discrimination according to social status and the ability to consume. A democracy cannot be run like a business, it's not based on competition but on the "inalienable rights" of all people and the basic affirmation of human dignity.

In a power vacuum, where government is removed, the power does not disappear but the powerful just take it... The ones with the means become the new governors of the system. "Government", as such, can never really be removed. The fate of the poor and the disenfranchised is decided by the ones with the money to leverage the system. Where formal government is removed, democracy is removed and accountability is removed.

Democracy is designed to empower people to hold the system accountable, to give them leverage, to give them more freedom. Assuming that our democracy is functioning; the bigger the government is, the more freedom people have. But where the government shrinks, democracy shrinks, and capitalism becomes more than an economic system, it becomes our very system of government. American capitalism is designed to fit beneath the umbrella of democracy, not the other way around.

To believe in "small government" is to believe in a systemic orientation toward the wealthy. There's actually no such thing as "small government." The country will always be governed by someone--either by Washington, and thus by the American people through democratic representation, or by Wall Street and the corporations driven by capital gain.

So I believe in big government because I believe, in principal, that it's easier for a regular person to hold their representatives accountable than it is to hold the corporations accountable. I believe in orienting the system in the direction and interest of the poor, even the poorest of the poor. The political debates should not be about big or small government, they should be about the effectiveness and justice of democracy. If our democracy isn't working, fix it. But don't give the power to CEO's and corporate gluttons, we may never get it back.


Anonymous said…
Like most silly arguments the author sets up a false premise with the notion that small government means no government. Not true. And to say that the larger the government is the more democracy we have is to ignore the history of the largest socialist states where a large government controlled everything. And the authors argument flies in the face of the founding fathers concern for big unchecked government.
wellis68 said…
I don't think that "anonymous" really understood my argument very well. Of course small government is not "no government." It's just where democratic government is removed, other powers will take control, powers that are likely less accountable to poor and working people... I don't believe in unchecked government. In fact I'm arguing for exactly the opposite. I just want regular people to have a say in the system.

I don't think there's anything silly about that... But thanks for your comment.
Danny said…
I don't think big government and a voice for the poor are as inversely proportional as you make it out to be here.
wellis68 said…
Perhaps not. Perhaps only in principal. But I think that that's where we should direct our criticisms. Removal of government, removal of democracy, doesn't seem to be a viable solution.
Monala said…
Well said.