It’s interesting to listen to the Republican candidates for president, except Donald Trump, try to outdo each other in claiming to be the most conservative and the one who will do the most to reduce the size of government. (I exclude Trump, because he seems to have no plan whatsoever.) By shrinking the size of government, of course, they mean reducing the taxes that the rich pay, and reducing the benefits of government for the rest of us.
The extremely rich can afford private jets and have no need to worry about streets that are unfit to drive or bridges in danger of falling down. They don’t use them. They don’t have to worry about dysfunctional school systems. They can send their kids to private schools in Switzerland. The rest of us, however, are seeing our quality of life diminish due to the inability of government to do its job.
Republicans, while being the most to blame for the declining state of our infrastructure, educational system, oversight of the robber barons in the banks, etc., they don’t deserve all of the blame. It was Bill Clinton who famously (or infamously, depending on your point of view) declared in this 1996 State of the Union address, “The era of big government is over.”
Government has a job to do. It builds the highways, repairs the bridges, provides the temporarily unemployed with enough income to get by on, and makes sure that Americans receive at least a basic education. It is increasingly failing to meet these obligations. War veterans are sleeping in the street, incomes are falling in real dollars, our infrastructure is decaying, streets and roads are full of cracks and potholes, and some bridges have even collapsed. Many more are in danger of doing so.
The generation of young Americans who are now entering adulthood are the first in our nation’s history to be more poorly educated than their parents. Our schools turn in an abysmal performance, and while our universities still maintain a high standard, fewer and fewer people can afford to attend them. Those that do often have to take remedial courses in math and English before they are ready for normal university classes. When they graduate, if they do, they are often saddled with debt loads that they will spend the rest of their lives paying off.
American graduate schools in the sciences are largely populated by students from other countries, because few Americans have the background to do graduate work in difficult fields.
Those of us who live in Arizona can spend a day observing what smaller government will bring us. From Phoenix it is a three-hour drive to the Mexican border. In Mexico, the government barely has enough money to provide basic services. Many people cannot write cursive, because the schools are dysfunctional. A large proportion of the population tries to eke out a living in the informal economy, selling trinkets in the street, washing the windshields of cars stopped at traffic lights for tips, or outright begging. With each day that passes, the United States looks a bit more like Mexico.
It is a bit more difficult for those of us who live in Arizona to observe a government that is large enough to serve its citizens the way a government should. Those of you who live in the north of the USA might visit Canada, whose citizens are better educated that ours and where everyone has the right to affordable healthcare. Spend a bit of money, and you could fly to a Scandinavian country, where there no citizens are sleeping in the streets (although some people in the country illegally may be.) If you want to discuss the benefits of having a functional government with the locals, you can do so in your own tongue, because almost all Scandinavians speak two or more languages and are fluent in English. The residents of most European countries are much better educated than we are.
In Mexico, there is a huge difference between the rich and the rest of the population. The rich run the government and claim the benefits. That is also increasingly the case in the United States. Although the gap between rich and poor is growing in Scandinavia, it is not nearly as great as in the United States.
We have a choice to make. Do we want our country to be more like Mexico? Then we should vote for small government, which does little to interfere with the criminally minded, who want to get rich at the expense of the rest of us while impoverishing the middle class. Or, do we want a government that provides services and puts controls on those who would cheat the system in order to use the hard work of the rest of us to enrich themselves?
Demanding a government that is large enough to function means more than just voting for the right presidential candidate. It also means voting for candidates for the House, Senate, and local offices who put the welfare of their constituents above political ideology.