Beyond Labels

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Is the era of small government over?

The debate in the US about a “small” versus a “big” federal government is as old as the Republic (see Jefferson and Hamilton, among many others) and continues today. A “small” federal government is generally understood (at least by Republicans when they don’t hold the White House or are a minority in Congress) to mean a government with powers limited to those expressly granted in the Constitution and with as small a budget as possible. A “big” government is generally understood (at  least by Democrats when they hold the White House or are a majority in Congress) is generally understood to mean a government with expansive powers and a large budget. Since Joe Biden was elected President and the Democrats gained (a bare) majority control of both houses of Congress, some now think the era of “small” government (which supposedly was what we had under Trump and his recent Republican predecessors) is over and the era of “big” government is here again.

Can that conclusion be supported by the facts? Did we, in fact, have an era of “small” government under Trump? How much evidence is there that an era of “big” government has now begun and, if it has, how long is it likely to last? Do our circumstances today call for a “small” government or a “big” government? Why?

Here are links to a few recent articles that may be relevant to the discussion:

https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/bidens-push-for-big-government-solutions-is-popular-now-but-it-could-backfire/

https://www.rollcall.com/2021/05/11/is-the-era-of-small-government-over/

https://reason.com/2021/05/08/the-era-of-small-government-is-over/?fbclid=IwAR2orr8KYWheWMqn_G2jAYUb7zHzZLR4XDCsUPixPJY5y1a5iqtX8OmpkQw

1 Comment

  • Here’s a comment from Hugh Nazor (posted elsewhere):

    Small Government” has always been about “starving the beast”. That is, the driving forces have been for small taxes (especially on those who have wealth), small regulations, small enforcement of regulations, a small “safety net” for the needy, and small turnout of lower income voters. There were also claims for small deficits but that was never, after 1932, practiced by adherents to small government when they were in power.

    The goal of small government was to get government out of the way of unfettered capitalism and the wealthy who benefitted from it. Small government also gave the military-industrial-complex more freedom to operate their corporations as well as to maximize influence of certain sectors of government.

    Please see two articles:

    The Starving State _ Foreign Affairs
    https://1drv.ms/b/s!ArD0BQemtYST2WfS-661yqMtW4GU?e=9gEK9T

    Opinion: Have Republicans stopped caring about big government?
    https://1drv.ms/b/s!ArD0BQemtYST2WgubW22GddRkkvF?e=bIt34x


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