Is The Fight Against Big Government Doomed ?

It certainly seems like it might be when you read stuff like this:

Slightly over half of all Americans – 52.6 percent – now receive significant income from government programs, according to an analysis by Gary Shilling, an economist in Springfield, N.J. That’s up from 49.4 percent in 2000 and far above the 28.3 percent of Americans in 1950. If the trend continues, the percentage could rise within ten years to pass 55 percent, where it stood in 1980 on the eve of President’s Reagan’s move to scale back the size of government.

That two-decade shrink-the-government trend now appears over, if for no other reason than demographics. The aging baby-boomer generation is poised to receive big payments from Social Security and government healthcare programs.

“New Deal programs persist,” despite the Reagan revolution and its aftermath, says James Galbraith, an economist at the University of Texas in Austin. “They persist because they are largely successful and highly popular.”

Mr. Shilling’s analysis found that about 1 in 5 Americans hold a government job or a job reliant on federal spending. A similar number receive Social Security or a government pension. About 19 million others get food stamps, 2 million get subsidized housing, and 5 million get education grants. For all these categories, Mr. Shilling counted dependents as well as the direct recipients of government income.

Thanks to these New Deal programs and the programs that followed during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the Welfare State has a permanent constituency supporting made up of the people who receive the benefits and the workers who administer the program. Logically, neither group is going to vote against a candidate that seeks to maintain the status quo or expand it, or for one who wishes to shrink the government.

And it could just get worse from here:

Some lawmakers hope to offer “wage insurance,” a temporary benefit to cushion the transition toward new jobs for workers laid off due to global competition. At the state and federal levels, politicians are also considering government’s role in extending healthcare coverage to more of those who are now uninsured.

And for all of the small government rhetoric of the 1980s, one political scientists argues that the amount of people benefiting from the state is on the rise again:

For his analysis of government beneficiaries in the US, done last year, Shilling looked at data from 1950 through 2004. His tally was conservative on several fronts – including the care he took to avoid double-counting anyone.

He added up the number of federal, state, and local government workers, plus private sector workers who owe their jobs to government. He then tallied the recipients of transfer payments (like pensions) and a few other substantial programs (like food stamps). And he tacked on the dependents of these direct beneficiaries.

He divided his total by the US population to get a “government beneficiary” ratio for each decade. The ratio has risen, he found, from 28.3 percent in 1950 to a peak of 55.0 percent in 1980. It edged down in 1990 and again in 2000, and now has begun climbing again.

Climbing. After six years of complete Republican control of the Executive and Legislative Branch. If that’s not an indication of the uphill fight we’ve got ahead of us, I don’t know what is.

  • Adam Selene

    Less than 25% of the population pays more than 50% of the taxes. The taxes support, in some fashion, about half the population. And we removed all controls on popular mass democracy about a century ago. More than 80% of our children are brainwashed “educated” in government schools by teachers with a vested interest in continuing such a situation.

    This is the logical outcome. When do you think we will reach the point that the option becomes irreversible socialism or revolution?

  • tkc

    “They persist because they are largely successful and highly popular.”

    No, the persist because the government has been lying to us about them. Nobody in their right mind would call a set of programs that are going to run the debt up to $40-$50 trillion ‘largely successful’. If this little fact about Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare was widely known then I doubt the programs would be ‘highly popular’.


    No. They exist because they are popular.

    Alexander Tyler, a Scottish Professor at Edinburgh University in the 18th century, saw this plainly as ubiquitous in all democracies. Moreover, he saw the tendency to raid the treasury as a common cause of death.
    He said

    A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a
    permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until
    the time that voters discover they can vote themselves generous gifts from
    the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for
    the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury,
    with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose
    fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship.”
    “The average age of the worlds greatest civilizations from the beginning
    of history, has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these
    nations always progressed through the following sequence:

    1. From bondage to spiritual faith;
    2. From spiritual faith to great courage;
    3. From courage to liberty;
    4. From liberty to abundance;
    5. From abundance to complacency;
    6. From complacency to apathy;
    7. From apathy to dependence;
    8. From dependence back into bondage

    Sounds like a Reader’s Digest version of our progress. And we are well past the 200 year mark, aren’t we.

  • jomama

    Not to worry. Force always eats itself.