Stateside,  The Right

The reality of “big government”

Guest post by Andrew Murphy

This pie chart illustrates why Republicans, who claim they want to cut government down to a size big enough to drown in a bathtub, are simply whistling past the political graveyard.

What do you eliminate? Social Security (24%)? No? Good, because the Republican Party would never win the state of Florida again and would lose the elderly vote. Do you eliminate, Medicare/Medicaid (24%)? No? Good, because the elderly vote and a good deal of Medicaid doesn’t just go to the “undeserving” poor but to nursing home funding. Those nursing homes are full of patients with middle class adult children who would be in for the shock of their lives if they learned they had to either take care of their elderly parents at their home or spend $80,000 or more a year, out of pocket, to pay the full cost of a nursing home without Medicaid money.

Do you drastically cut the defense budget? Not unless you want to be accused of being an “isolationist” or “weak on defense,” and cutting defense to the bone is not a realistic option either. Do you cut transportation and end funding to fix potholes on interstates? No. Do you eliminate the 6% that goes to interest on the debt? Not unless you want interest rates to skyrocket and the USA’s credit rating to bottom out to banana republic status. Do you cut protection? That means no FBI, Border Patrol or CIA, and nobody to protect you from terrorism or illegal immigration. So that leaves 12% for welfare, 3% to education and 1% for general government.

And if you eliminate welfare, keep in mind the real world consequences. That will mean more panhandlers and beggars on the street and exacerbate social tensions and inequality. But also remember, private charities are just as bureaucratic as any government. According to the United Way’s website, more than 27% of their operating budget goes to just fundraising, public relations and what they call “Brand Leadership.” So in a country with no welfare, expect the bureaucracy of a private charity to grow exponentially, as they hire more fund raisers to keep up with demand from all the people with no safety net to fall back on. Which also means for you, in this dystopian future, less of your money actually going to help real people when you give money to a charity and more going to feed the fundraising cogs in the machine, which no doubt will be being calling you at dinner time, a gazillion times, begging for money.

So next time you hear libertarians, Tea Partiers, rightwing bloggers and radio shock jocks like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh talk about scaling back “big government,” think about what the actual budget of the US government comprises. Would you really be willing to live with the adverse consequences of no Social Security or Medicare? Can you afford to supplement or pay for your retired parents’ or grandparents’ medical bills and living expenses, tomorrow, if both programs are eliminated?

The reality is, railing against “big government” is a rhetorical measure and not a serious one. As Paul Krugman noted many years ago, if Republicans were really honest, they would be blaming retirees in Florida, not faceless bureaucrats in Washington, for big government.