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Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Big Can Be Beautiful

Smart government is better than small government.
I have a question: If this is the greatest country in the world, why do we keep acting so dumb?

I suppose the sequestration of the federal budget isn’t as dumb as deliberately going over the fiscal cliff, but it’s plenty dumb. Just as the economy was showing signs of climbing out of the hole it’s been in for four years, along come the Republicans to stomp on its fingers.

The best you can say is that it won’t be as quick a demise as a trip over the cliff — it’s more like waterboarding. Some people will hardly notice it at first — the exceptions being the poor, the young, the sick, and furloughed government workers — but it will eventually send unemployment back up and tax revenue down.

And, curiously enough, it will do virtually nothing to address our long-term budget deficit. And that’s what all of this brouhaha is supposed to be about.

The good news is that Mitt Romney will now be able to afford Muzak for his car elevator.

Which apparently pleases Republicans just fine. So long as taxes don’t go up, everything is good.

Conservatives in general, and Republicans in particular, worship at the altar of small government. A government that governs least governs best, they say. Oh, and government isn’t the solution, it’s part of the problem. They’re wrong.

We are a large, wealthy country, home to scores of giant multinational corporations. We live in a global economy. What makes you think we can get by with a small government?

Big government, far from being a terrible thing, is a necessity if we’re to compete in the global marketplace and take care of our responsibilities at home.

Without big government, who will protect the public from the rapacious instincts of capitalistic forces? Who will work to make our air clean, our water pure, and our drugs safe? Who will try to see that the average working stiff gets a fair shake?

I’ll save you the trouble of trying to think of an answer — it’s nobody.

It’s not as though we haven’t tried small government laissez-faire capitalism before. The industrial revolution of the 19th century was the very model for it. Companies did pretty much as they pleased.

The result: company towns that enforced a form of serfdom on their workers, child labor, open and sometimes brutal discrimination against women, blacks, and other ethnic minorities. We had fraudulently promoted unsafe drug supplies, unchecked pollution, and hellish working conditions in mines and factories — all in the name of making a buck for the privileged few.

That’s your small government.

We slowly crawled out from under that oppressive system through government action fueled by the progressive movement of the early 20th century, the New Deal of the 1930s, and many vibrant social movements.

And now Republicans want to take us back to that Hobbesian, all-against-all society? Count me out.

You’ll notice that I’m blaming Republicans exclusively for this mess we’re in. That’s because it’s all their fault.

There are those who claim that Republicans and Democrats share equal blame, or that President Barack Obama has refused to compromise. Don’t believe it.

Obama wore out two sets of trousers during his first term going on his knees to Congress and pleading for cooperation. He got none.

Republicans are still playing that game. They think they can solve our deficit problems by cutting government alone. They can’t. That’s the path Europe has taken.

How’s that working out for them anyway?

I don’t want to sound as though big government is the answer to every problem or that it’s an unadulterated good. It’s not. It too can be oppressive, wasteful, and stupid. You have to watch it like a hawk.

But the solution to bad government isn’t small government. It’s smart government.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.