NEW: A Project to Thank Local Taxpayers
NEW: The Real Reason for Big Government
NEW: Govt is Good is now available in book form.
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The Importance of Public Goods
THE DEFICIT SCARE: MYTH VS. REALITY
A DAY IN YOUR LIFE WITH GOVERNMENT: How public programs improve your life in innumerable ways.
Watch the satiric video: WHO NEEDS BIG GOVERNMENT?
BIG GOVERNMENT IS NOT YOUR ENEMY
STEALTH DEREGULATION: The Untold Story
Test Your Government IQ
What Americans REALLY Think about Government
A Guide to Rebutting Right-Wing Criticisms of Government
Additional Readings on this Topic from Other Authors
Beyond Cynicism about Government
Welcome to governmentisgood.com
Why a website defending government? Because for decades conservatives have been demonizing and attacking government and not enough has been done to defend it. We need to recognize that despite its problems, government plays an essential role in promoting the good life for all Americans. When we recklessly reduce and underfund this institution, we are hampering our ability to improve people’s lives and to effectively address our pressing social, economic, and environmental problems.
To see what is at stake in this battle over government, we need only consider how efforts to limit government in this country have caused us to fall behind many other advanced democracies in providing important public services. Most western European countries, for instance, have larger public sectors and do much better in a wide variety of areas, including retirement security, poverty reduction, child care availability, affordable higher education, pollution control, limiting workplace injuries, affordable housing, crime control, infrastructure investment, healthcare access, and much more. A 2014 study found that among similar countries, the U.S. ranks 31st in personal safety, 34th in access to water and sanitation, 39th in basic education, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, and 70th in health.
And yet Republicans continue to insist that what we need is even less government, and they persist in waging a relentless political war against this institution. They have been joined in this anti-government crusade by libertarian thinkers, Tea Party activists, right-wing media pundits, and wealthy corporate lobbies. Make no mistake: the goal of this anti-government movement is not merely to eliminate waste or make the government more efficient. The ultimate aim is to undo many of the most important and successful government programs that have been in place since the New Deal and the Great Society. They want to slash spending on vital safety net programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, and Social Security. They would like to roll back key regulations protecting consumers, workers, and the environment. And they want to reduce taxes so drastically that many crucial programs and agencies would be starved of funds.
Many Republicans have even called for the wholesale dismantling of entire federal agencies. Their hit list includes the Environmental Protection Agency and the Departments of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, Commerce, Interior, and Education. And at a time when polls show that a majority of Americans want increased regulation of the energy industry, health care companies, and the financial industry, conservatives are saying they want much less oversight. As former Republican Representative Ron Paul once explained: “I don’t think we need regulators.” This kind of anti-government extremism has come to dominate the Republican Party.
In recent years, this hatred of government has become more and more irrational. Many anti-government zealots actually celebrated the shutdown of the federal government in the fall of 2013 – even as it denied vital services to millions of Americans and cost the economy an estimated $24 billion. And in a perverse display of pique against federal programs, 26 Republican controlled states have refused to expand Medicaid coverage for their poor citizens, even though the federal government would pay at least 90% of the cost. It is estimated that this decision will deny coverage to millions and result in the death of 7,000 to 17,000 low income Americans every year.
And it is not hard to find many other examples of the price we are paying for this war on government. The Republicans’ anti-government philosophy of deregulation has not only proved a disaster for the financial system, but has also undermined food safety and environmental protection. And cutting local and state taxes has led to school budgets being slashed, public safety workers being laid off, libraries being closed, poor children being denied medical care, and bridges and roads falling into dangerous disrepair.
Disturbingly, this reckless anti-government movement has not lost any steam and has racked up some important political victories in recent years. Congressional Republicans out-negotiated the Democrats and were able to make the massive Bush tax cuts permanent – except for the ones granted to the very rich. This will deny the federal government hundreds of billions of dollars in needed revenue. The Republicans have also been able to impose sequestration – the across the board cutting of budgets for virtually all federal programs. All of this when a majority of Americans are calling for the federal government to do more to aid education, protect the environment, and improve access to medical care.
Unfortunately, even President Obama has not been immune to this government reduction mania. A report by the Center for Effective Government has found that under his budget proposals, non-defense discretionary spending is slated to be reduced by 2023 to its lowest level in 50 years. Discretionary spending – which does not include mandatory spending for programs like Social Security and Medicare – makes up pretty much everything else we think of when we think of the federal government. It includes aid to education, infrastructure investments, programs to protect the environment, workers, and consumers, NASA, assistance programs for the poor, veterans’ benefits, health and health research, law enforcement, the National Park system, funding for basic science, etc.
Economist Jeffrey Sachs has warned that Obama’s planned government rollbacks will severely undermine any efforts to address our urgent national needs, and that “there is likely to be no or very meager action to address America’s growing underclass, gaping inequalities, decrepit infrastructure, persistent drought or worsening climate change.”
Of course, Republican budget proposals offer even more draconian cuts in federal programs. A Congressional Budget Office analysis of Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal found that by 2050, there would only be enough money left for Social Security, Medicare, and defense spending. Virtually everything else the federal government does would come to a halt.
This website is a response to this increasingly extreme anti-government movement and its distorted depiction of government. It makes the case that government – despite its flaws – plays a valuable and indispensable role in promoting the public good. In reality, most government programs are working well and are actually improving the lives of all Americans in innumerable ways.
Our democratic government is a unique institution that allows us to pool our resources and to act collectively to address the serious social, economic, and environmental problems that we are unable to deal with as individuals. The public sector is also how we provide for essential human needs that are neglected by the market – such as clean air and water, safe workplaces, and economic security. What’s more, government serves as an important instrument of moral action – a way for us to rectify injustices, eliminate suffering, and care for each other. In short, democratic government is one of the main ways we work together to pursue the common good and make the world a better place. If we want an America that is prosperous, healthy, secure, well-educated, just, compassionate, and unpolluted, we need a strong, active, and well-funded public sector.
Articles on this site will also show that the arguments used by conservative to try to justify their attacks on government are often based on misinformation and faulty assumptions. Consider, for example, the charge that the federal bureaucracy is growing at an uncontrollable rate. Simply not true. The facts are these: in 1970, 2,944,000 civilians worked in the federal executive branch; by 2012, that figure had grown to – or rather been reduced to – 2,697,000. In 1966, the federal government employed 4.3% of all people with jobs in the U.S. In 2013, federal employees made up only 2% of the total workforce. So much for the ever-growing federal bureaucracy.
Most of the other traditional conservative criticisms of government are off the mark as well. This site shows that Americans are not hugely overtaxed, that big government does not inevitably impinge on individual freedoms, and that government is not the natural enemy of business.
This is not to deny that American government has its problems. There are incidents of waste, some regulations are poorly designed, and some politicians abuse their power. More importantly, our government is certainly not as democratic and accountable as it could be, money plays too big a role in politics, and special interests have way too much political power. Such problems need to be fixed, and this site identifies several needed reforms. Nonetheless, whatever drawbacks this institution has right now are far outweighed by the enormous benefits that we all enjoy from a vast array of public sector programs. On the whole, government is good for us and we need to start coming to its defense.
HOW THIS WEBSITE IS ORGANIZED
- The War on Government. This section of the site chronicles the unrelenting assault on government being waged by conservative forces in this country. Articles describe how cuts in social programs and rollbacks of regulations have harmed the health, safety, and welfare of millions of Americans; how these assaults have taken place on many fronts – in Congress, the administrative branch, and the federal courts, as well as on the state and local level; and how the right’s radical anti-government agenda is out of touch with the views and priorities of most Americans.
- Why Government is Good. This section describes how government acts as a force for good in society. One piece chronicles a day in the life of an average middle-class American and identifies the myriad and often overlooked ways that government laws and programs improve our lives. Other articles describe the forgotten achievements of government; how government serves as an instrument of “good works;” how public sector policies and institutions protect and enhance our freedoms; how a free market economy would be impossible without the elaborate legal and regulatory infrastructure provided by government; and why we need more – not less –government.
- How to Revitalize Democracy and Government. There are, in fact, some problems with American government, and we need to address these if we are to restore Americans’ faith in this institution. Right now, the main problem with our government is that it is not accountable and responsive enough to the public. We have a deficit of democracy – with special interests too often winning out over the public interest. Articles in this section describe this problem and how we can fix it. There are several reforms – including public financing of elections – that could help our government live up to its democratic ideals. The final piece discusses several political strategies for rebuilding and revitalizing the public sector. This includes a campaign to “reframe” the way we think and talk about government. We also need to develop a pro-government coalition in this country. Political groups that depend on active and well-funded government – environmentalists, women, minorities, labor, teachers, etc. – need to move beyond their own narrow policy concerns to embrace a wider political vision that promotes government as a good in itself.