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Comments on Big Government

Earlier this week, I growled  that limited government is needed now more than ever. One of the “timely classics” in Foundation for Economic Freedom’s “in brief” today is an August 1990 essay by Robert Higgs, senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute. In  the introduction, he begins by writing:

“All but the few anarchists among us recognize that effective liberty requires some government, if only to define and protect rights to life and property. Beyond a point, however, bigger government begins to cut into our liberties; then the growth of government becomes synonymous with the sacrifice of liberty. In the United States, we entered this stage a long time ago.”

Higgs then charts the growth of our government. In the essay, he notes:

“When we say that government has grown, what do we mean? Government is not a single thing, measurable along a scale like inches of height or pounds of weight. The size of government can change in different dimensions, many of them incommensurable.

“One dimension of government is the burden of taxation. In the early years of the 20th century, federal, state, and local governments took in revenues equal to 6 to 7 percent of the gross national product (GNP). By 1950, revenues had risen to 24 percent of GNP. Over the past 40 years the tax proportion has drifted irregularly upward, and now stands at about 32 percent of GNP ”

Higgs asks whether America will see a shift away from big government, writing:

“The growth of government cannot continue forever. An economy totally dominated by government isn’t viable—even the Communists now recognize this. Eventually the government will eat up so much of the private sector that it will destroy the means of its own sustenance. At some point the balance of political power will swing away from support for bigger government in an effort to revive the dying goose that lays the golden eggs. If such reaction can occur in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, it certainly can occur here.

“But that glorious day, in my judgment, is not yet in sight . . . .”

1990’s “big government” has certainly gotten bigger, and is headed higher, as shown in the following U.S. General Accountability Office graph: 

Will the nation’s voters choose more fiscal insanity in November? For the sake of future generations, let us hope voters choose wisely.


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