2. Big government is incompatible with economic growth. Economists debate the exact relationship between the size of government and economic growth, but few argue that government can consume an unlimited proportion of the national economy without its having a significant impact on that economy. For example, a pair of studies by Harvard’s Robert Barro found that “public consumption spending is systematically inversely related to economic growth,” and that there is a “significantly negative relation between the growth of real GDP and the growth of the government share of GDP.”
Similarly, an empirical analysis of 23 OECD countries by James Gwartney and his colleagues found that a ten‐percentage‐point increase in government consumption as a share of GDP reduced the growth rate of real GDP by one percentage point. Numerous other studies, including those from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, have also shown that as government grows, growth slows.
3. Big government doesn’t work. Quickly now, can you name three government programs that work? And if you have to reach back to the GI Bill, you lose.
The further government gets from its core functions, the more it gets involved in areas where it just isn’t qualified to do a very good job. We have 126 separate federal anti‐poverty programs, at a cost of $668 billion per year, yet poverty has hardly been dented. We spend more on education every year, but test scores remain stagnant. The stimulus bill spent as much as $540,000 for every job it created. Social Security is a giant pyramid scheme. Medicare and Medicaid are models of inefficiency.
Perhaps worse, government intervention crowds out the private actions of civil society, which are far more effective in addressing people’s needs. Big government doesn’t only make it harder to care for ourselves and our families; it also makes it harder to care for our fellow man.
4. Big government breeds corruption. Corruption is endemic to big government, and it goes far beyond the occasional scandal about congressional bribery, nepotism, or Dominican prostitutes. It goes without saying that pampered politicians — desperate for reelection and with the power to dispense favors, reward friends, and punish enemies — are prone to temptation. But the real corruption goes much deeper.
Washington is a town with 12,390 registered lobbyists and a special‐interest association on every corner, from the American Dehydrated Onion and Garlic Association to the National Balloon Council. But why are they there? Because the government is involved in everything from dehydrated onions to balloons.
You can decry the influence of lobbyists and money on politics all you want, but those who are taxed, regulated, paid, hired, or controlled by the government are naturally going to try to influence how they are taxed, regulated, paid, hired, and controlled. Nor should it be a surprise if these interests try to rig the game in their favor by, say, securing special tax treatment for themselves or encouraging greater regulation of their competitors.
5. Big government limits freedom. Perhaps most important, the debate over the size of government is about the ability of people to make decisions for themselves and be responsible for their own lives. Every dollar that big government spends the way it wants is one less dollar that individuals have to spend the way that they want. As Frédéric Bastiat put it in his parable of the broken window: If the shopkeeper with the broken window hadn’t had to pay to replace it, “he would, perhaps, have replaced his old shoes or added another book to his library.” Or to put it in today’s context, he might have purchased health care, saved for his retirement, or donated to charity. He might have started a business or hired workers. Or he might have spent it entirely on frivolities. Whatever he might have done, he is now deprived of that choice.
Moreover, when government tells us how to save for our retirement, what health insurance to buy, what charities to support, what to eat, or whom we can marry, it forces people to live by the government’s standards rather than their own decisions. It prevents people from pursuing their own goals and objectives, merely because people in government believe that those goals are mistaken. But, as Milton Friedman warned: