Misplaced faith in big government

While most of the public and media attention the past two years has been focused on high prices and inflation, these issues take second place over the public’s top concern, which is big government, according to a new Gallup poll. Concern over the uncontrolled southern border is in third position.

Gallup reports “the government ranks as the top problem for both Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (24%) and Democrats and Democrat-leaning independents (18%).” That last figure may come as a surprise to some as Democrats are often regarded, at least by Republicans, as the party of government.

We have heard much of this before. People claim to hate big government, its intrusiveness, the entire tax system, overregulation of businesses and further loss of confidence in it by many following the displays of ineptitude during the COVID-19 pandemic. There are more reasons to dislike big government, but these are some of the most prominent ones.

Some Democrats often reply to statements about people who claim to dislike big government by saying “You may say you hate it, but when you need it, it’s there.” It’s a clever rejoinder, but it misses the point. Government is no longer limited, as the Founders intended. It is everywhere, including and increasingly in decisions we used to make for ourselves. If you are old enough to remember drinking out of garden hoses and riding bikes without helmets you know what I mean.

Cutting even the rate of spending increases, much less reducing actual spending, gets you slammed as uncaring about children and the poor. That has been a fraud perpetrated by some politicians to help preserve their careers in government, something else the Founders never intended.

One suggestion for reducing the size and rising cost of government comes from Andrew Biggs, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Biggs says this about Social Security, the largest federal spending program after Medicare: “Social Security is expensive because it’s more than a safety net. The average new retiree in 2021 received an annual benefit of nearly $21,000, 1.5 times the poverty threshold without counting their own savings.” The benefit will keep rising to $59,234 by 2050. People with the highest incomes receive a monthly check, which is ridiculous. One no longer needs to be retired, as once was the case, to receive a government check.

Biggs writes that capping Social Security based on a person’s savings and income would help reduce the national debt, though comprehensive reform is most needed.

The real problem is that too many Americans have come to rely on the government for what it was never created to do and less on themselves. Part of this is an outgrowth of the “entitlement mentality” that has turned government from a last resort to a first resource.

No modern president better addressed the dangers to personal and economic freedom than Ronald Reagan, who was part of a generation that endured the Great Depression and World War II. Some of his most famous quips were: “We who live in free market societies believe that growth, prosperity and ultimately human fulfillment, are created from the bottom up, not the government down.” And “Government does not solve problems; it subsidizes them.” And “I hope we once again have reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: As government expands, liberty contracts.”

That last one is the main point and it is largely ignored by those who wish to keep on growing government, even as our liberties shrink.

Readers may email Cal Thomas at tcaeditors@tribpub.com.