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The attacks on "big government" have created an atmosphere, a meme, has activated certain frames...  It's too widespread with too little effective push-back.

Here are a couple of quotes from Pres. Obama's 2013 State of the Union address:

"It is not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth."  

"The American people don’t expect government to solve every problem."

Obama isn't really pushing "small government" - at least not in the way or to the degree some are.  But his wording is still likely to activate brain routines which will make some listener lean more towards small government.

He could have said something more like:

"Our government needs to be smarter, that's the real question - not the size."

"There are problems which can't be solved without government, there are some which can be most effectively handled by government, there are some problems which democratic norms require be run by the bodies elected by the citizens, and there are some which do not need to be in the hands of the government."

The anit-big government / pro-small government message is, in many ways, a ruse.  Not that many people want to have a small government when a foreign government invades, or when a natural disaster strikes, or when their home is burglarized, or when an unlicensed driver totals their car.  Strong majorities oppose cuts to Social security (they don't want small government when they retire).  How many people wanted a small government which provides no unemployment benefits when the economic crisis hit?  How many would want to live in a community with no public schools?

It's not about "small government" - it's about low taxes for the more affluent who don't expect to need public services, and fewer services for those who the more affluent don't expect to rub elbows with.  Multi-trillion dollar bail-outs of billionaires are OK, a little help for those living in poverty because of stingy wages and benefits given by those same billionaires to their employees are not.  This is one of the images we should be projecting of the "small government" advocates.

We need to present a different view in more effective ways.

When you go to buy a car, you don't just pick whichever one has the smallest price tag.  You look for which meets your needs and gives you the most bang for the buck.  That's the smart way to decide how much taxes you pay in order to get which benefits for yourself directly and for society (which is for you indirectly).

If you were looking to sign up with an organization like the Auto Club (AAA), you probably wouldn't want to sign up with the smallest such organization.  You'd want an organization with lots of resources and which was available in lots of places to help you wherever you and your car might be.

At least for some things, you'd rather shop at a store with a bigger selection rather than a small selection.  And even if you like the idea of shopping at a small, local store, you might also know you can get some things more cheaply at the big stores - because there are advantages to being big.

According to studies discussed in Scientific American, the health care provided in Canada's single payer system is similar to that in the US, but Canadians pay a far longer cost per person.  "Big government" in ways like that can save the people's money, "small government" can cost you more.  If the US instituted a single payer health care system, it should be able to do it at a lower per capita rate than Canada, because the US population is something like 10 times that of Canada.  A population 10 times as large probably only needs 9 times as much administrative costs.  Bigger has advantages.

We need to develop the best of these kinds of analogies, narratives, frames, etc.  We need to make it "common sense".  We want to make as many people as possible ask themselves what the consequences will be when they hear "small government" talk.  When they hear "small government", their gut reaction should be, "Why would I want that?"

So, put on your thinking caps and start working on the best way to message this.

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Comment Preferences

  •  We need to start questioning (0+ / 0-)

    the size and scope of the private sector. Why should the investor class make a profit from everything we do ? People need to understand that the government is a non-profit and that government bureaucrats make a lot less than corporate CEOs. Of course, we'll never get anywhere as long as people rely on television for their information.

    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

    by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 08:30:23 AM PST

    •  Most of us who work are part of (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      the "investor class."  

      Anyone who has a 401(k) or a retirement plan is part of the "investor class."  

      And yes, in a capitalist system, the economy is built on making a profit.  I am a part owner in a business, and I make a profit from the work I, and our employees, do, because I have spend decades, and a lot of money, building up that business.  

      •  No, people who work for a living (0+ / 0-)

        are working-class. It's almost sad that conservatives are still pushing this everybody's an investor crap. There's no such thing as a capitalist system and we're allowed to use our government to provide services everyone needs on a non-profit basis. It's much more efficient for things like education and health care.

        The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

        by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 09:10:36 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Um, I work for a living. (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          It so happens that I'm a lawyer, and I am a partner in a law firm (a small business) and we employ others. But I work 50-60 hours most weeks to earn the money to pay both me and our employees.  Am I "working class" or "investor"?  My point is, you can be both.  

          •  Here's a simple test: (0+ / 0-)

            do you have to work ? If so, you probably aren't among the global .01%. Why you promote the interests of a class to which you do not belong is another question.

            The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

            by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 10:18:49 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  What "class to which I do not belong"? (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Whatithink, VClib

              I definitely am an investor, in two respects:  (1) I own a business -- that is my biggest investment; and (2) I have my 401k, and my other savings, invested.  

              I am also working for a living.  

              I belong to both.  

              I am not part of the uber rich who do not have to work for a living. But "investors" aren't limited to the uber rich who don't have to work for a living.

              •  The threat to our liberty, (0+ / 0-)

                and our standard of living, doesn't come from a law firm that owns it's building, or from a teacher with a pension plan or a guy who rehabs houses, though all of these are technically investors and some may even flatter themselves that they belong to the investor class. It comes from very large, global concentrations of capital and the notion that these must be allowed to profit from all human activity is nothing less that corporate totalitarianism.

                The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

                by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 11:20:57 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Just curious, (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  How is a global concentration of capital a threat to your liberty? I can see it being a threat to a solid safety net, but how does it affect your liberty?Please be specific.

                  •  Monopoly power constrains my choices, (0+ / 0-)

                    and people are not free under feudalism. Unlike my government, corporations are not democratic institutions. The more power they have over our lives, the less democracy we have. The conservative elite doesn't hate the government, they just hate Democracy.

                    The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

                    by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 12:26:12 PM PST

                    [ Parent ]

                    •  But we aren't a democracy we are a (1+ / 0-)
                      Recommended by:


                      •  This is why (1+ / 0-)
                        Recommended by:

                        there are laws against monopoly power.

                         Monopoly power constrains my choices, )
                        The most powerful corporations clearly are not a monopoly -- Exxon, Apple, for example, are not monopolies.  They are very large companies, certainly, but a small mom and pop business would never have had the resources to develop the IPhone or the IPad.  And even Apple, powerful as it is, has no "control" over me.  I can choose not to own Apple products.  I can choose not to buy Exxon products.  

                        If a corporation has "control" over me, it's generally one of two situations.  (1) I have chosen that role for myself -- I have chosen to buy their products, or use their services. (2) in the case of a monopoly, like a local utility company, they have submitted themselves to extra regulation and control by government -- government even controls how much profit they can make on their monopoly (that's how concepts like the rate base came into existence).  

                      •  Not this again. (0+ / 0-)

                        The idea that "we are a republic and not a democracy" comes from a misreading of the Federalist Papers. A republic is simply any government other than a monarchy. So the US is a republic. What Madison said in #10, and again in #14, is that we are not a direct democracy., as in ancient Athens. The fact that we elect representatives and executives makes us a democracy, albeit a representative, as opposed to a direct, democracy. Democracy and Republic are not mutually exclusive. I get to vote for the nation's Chief Executive every four years. I have never been given the opportunity to vote for a corporate CEO. Do you see ?

                        The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

                        by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 12:41:23 PM PST

                        [ Parent ]

                        •  There's a difference (2+ / 0-)
                          Recommended by:
                          VClib, nextstep
                          . I get to vote for the nation's Chief Executive every four years. I have never been given the opportunity to vote for a corporate CEO. Do you see ?
                          I can opt out of any privately owned business.  I can decide not to buy their products, or not to own any stock.  I influence privately owned business only if I choose to -- by being a customer, or -- if they are a publicly traded company buying stock.  If I choose to buy into a company, I get a vote on the governance of the company (shareholders get to vote).  

                          I cannot choose whether I want to buy-in to the federal government -- I am forced to because of tax laws.  I cannot opt out of control of the federal government.

                          I don't know what makes you think you should have control over someone else's property, which is what a privately-owned business is.  If it's your property -- if you own some of it -- you get a say in proportion to your ownership.  

                  •  The "global concentration" comment wasn't mine but (0+ / 0-)

                    let me comment.  The enormous wealth of a few has allowed them disproportionate influence via lobbying, unlimited political expenditures, and other means.  This has reduced the influence of the vast majority in government policy.  Clearly, the rich don't get everything they want all the time.  Nevertheless, average citizens get less of what they would without the impact of big money.  The process continues with Citizens United, ALEC getting state legislatures to make voting more difficult, big money helping to elect state legislators who gerrymander in ways convenient for them, etc.

          •  A small point (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Your honor! I object to you saying you work "to pay both me and our employees".  Your employees work to pay for themselves.

            •  What I meant is that (0+ / 0-)

              our clients pay for the lawyers' time  -- we bill clients for services performed by lawyers.  I bill so much an hour for my time, for example. Our support staff, and our business staff, are paid out of what the clients pay for lawyers' time.  

              So, the services I perform for clients pays for both me, and for the employees who work for our firm.  Technically, the employees perform services for me (for our lawyers) so that I can spend more time working for clients.  

              That's how it is in most professional services businesses.

      •  You're probably overestimating (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        the number of Americans who can afford investments today.  Further, 401(k)'s have basically been forced on employees by bosses who've dumped pension plans.  Most Americans don't have investor skills to wisely invest themselves or to pick a good adviser.  Economic crises can devastate investment accounts.  The corporations that dumped pension plans know investment is risky - otherwise they'd be trying to make a profit investing their pension fund money.  Yes, a few lucky folks could end up ahead with a retirement investment account, but on the whole pension plans are better.

        •  Nonetheless, anyone with a 401(K) (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Whatithink, nextstep

          is an investor, and is making money off investments.  (After all, when the market dropped, most of what we heard about was the dramatic effect on 401k's.)  That may have been forced on us by the government, who provided the financial incentives for employers to switch from defined benefits plans to 401(k)'s (after all, "401(k)" is a provision in the Internal Revenue Code put there by Congress).  But the fact remains that anyone with a 401(k) is an "investor."'

          And, of course, the vast majority of governmental pension plans, like teacher retirement systems, are also "investors."

          And, because I have money invested in my business, I'm an investor in that sense, too.    

          It's not like there's a handful of people in this country who are "investors" and who are making money from business.

    •  in fact (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      from an economics point of view, part of what's happening today is the rich are getting rich while the rest of us aren't.  The extra wealth of the rich makes them look for more places to invest.  That leads some to push privatization in order to let them invest in formerly public sector areas.

      •  They want everything; schools, water, everything. (0+ / 0-)

        They'd privatize air if they could and charge us all a quarter a breath.

        For every one rich man, there must be at least five hundred poor, and the affluence of the few supposes the indigence of the many.

                                                   Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

        If you've got some time, like an hour and a half,
        here's a good documentary on privatization ☛ Catastroika

        The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

        by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 10:14:26 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  And I would say that liberals try (0+ / 0-)

          to nationalize everything. What is your point? Do you not want a capitalist society?

          •  I want a smart economy (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            Scientific studies have shown Canada's single payer health care system provides a similar level of care at far lower cost per person than the US system.  When private companies don't do it as well or endanger the public, it's reasonable to go an alternate route.

          •  What is my Point ? (0+ / 0-)

            You don't see what my point is ? Not everything should be left to for-profit enterprises, they are inefficient and seek constantly to charge more and deliver less, or does your experience with for-profit healthcare convince you otherwise ?

            The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

            by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 12:59:42 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Everyone who works for a corporation (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      except the CEO, makes less than the CEO.

      "let's talk about that"

      by VClib on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 09:14:48 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Well of course. (0+ / 0-)

        The fact remains that upper management positions in large private enterprises pay much more than those in government. From the consumer's point of view, outlandish compensation represents inefficiency.

        The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

        by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 10:25:20 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Of course it is outlandish... (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          coffeetalk, VClib

          in the first scenario, the money doesn't belong to everyone, and in the second it does, the taxpayers.

        •  If the consumer thinks a CEO's pay is outlandish (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Azazello, nextstep, VClib

          the consumer can choose not to buy what the private corporation is selling. If I thought Steve Jobs was overpaid, I could choose not to buy Apple products.

          The same choice does not exist in government.  I could not say, "I do not think George W. Bush is worth $400,000, therefore I chose not to participate in the federal government."  I could chose not to take federal benefits, of course.  But I cannot "opt out of" federal regulations, federal laws, and federal taxes.  I had to pay for George W. Bush, for his upkeep in the White House, for all his cabinet and all his staff regardless of whether I thought they were overpaid or not.  

          •  Well that's the thing, isn't it ? (0+ / 0-)
            ... the consumer can chose not to buy ...
            If I am compelled to buy, for example, private-sector health insurance do you suppose I'll be able to find a company whose CEO makes only $400k ?

            The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

            by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 01:04:45 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  It depends (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              VClib, nextstep

              Ironically, the less regulated a business is, the more likely you are to find smaller operators where the CEO's make less money.  

              The increased regulatory control over the health insurance industry, however, through the ACA pretty much will put smaller health insurance entities out of business, or will prevent new start ups.  

              But health insurance is unique because -- as the lawyers on both sides freely admitted before the SCOTUS -- it's pretty much the only place where you are compelled to buy a specific product.  Even so, of course, as was made clear, you aren't REALLY compelled to buy health insurance.  You aren't put in jail if you don't pay (like you are put in jail if you don't pay federal income taxes).  You can choose instead to pay a tax.  (And for most people, paying the tax will be much cheaper than buying health insurance.)  

              •  The less regulated a business is (0+ / 0-)

                the more likely it is to be in the hands of a monopoly or oligopoly. I can't believe anyone actually defends monopoly capitalism

                The free market is not the solution, the free market is the problem.

                by Azazello on Thu Feb 14, 2013 at 02:18:34 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  I'm defending capitalism, not (1+ / 0-)
                  Recommended by:

                  "monopoly" capitalism.

                  And more regulation on an INDUSTRY makes it more likely that only the bigger players can afford to comply with the regulations.  

                  For example, some banking regulations are making it much more difficult for smaller banks to survive.  See here and here.  

          •  You can't opt out of gov't (0+ / 0-)

            but in the kind of society I want, you have an equal say with everyone else in picking the president and picking the representatives who set the president's pay, must confirm the president's appointments, can override presidential vetoes and decide if the president should be impeached.

            IF you own stock in the particular corporation you'd like to influence, you have an opportunity to have a say.  Doing so may not be as convenient as voting for gov't officials. Corporations don't work on a one-person-one-vote basis - they work on one-dollar-one-vote.  For 99.9% of the population that means no meaningful say.

            You can choose not to buy one brand, but you may not be able to find a brand that is less odious.

            I have a friend who works for a gov't agency which operates as a business competing with private companies.  Despite rules designed to make it less competitive, it does well.  Would a gov't business that wasn't competing against private companies do as well?  (Works for Canadian health care.)  If not, one option could be several separately managed gov't brands competing with each other.  There are more possibilities than one might think.

            •  This is because corporations are (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              VClib, nextstep

              property, and belong to their owners, like any other property.

              If I own a 99% ownership in a piece of land, and you own 1% ownership, should we have "equal say" over what happens to it?  If we sell, should we split the sales price 50/50?  

              A business -- whether it's a privately held corporation, a publicly held corporation, an LLC, a partnership, whatever form it's in --  is property that belongs to its owners.  

              If you and I start a restaurant, and I put in $100,000 in capital and you put in $10,000 in capital, I am going to have more control than you, because I own more.  That's how property rights work.  

              A business -- regardless of its legal form -- is the property of the owners.  The owners control the property based on their ownership.  That's how it works, even in a business.

  •  The reason that many people do not want (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "big government" is that, with government comes government control, and -- necessarily -- less individual freedom.  For example, I can tell you as an employer that, once government mandated health insurance for all, it also eliminated some choices.  For young healthy adults, it makes much more financial sense to have  very high deductible, catastrophic health care plan plus an HSA, where you get far lower premiums in exchange for paying for the every day medical costs out of your HSA. Young healthy employees generally come out much better financially with that model, and we provided that option.  The ACA will effectively eliminate that option for our employees by mandating what is covered by an approved insurance plan.  

    That's what is fueling the libertarian streak in some young people, I think.  There's the notion that government should stay out of their lives except in certain limited circumstances like defense, and a recognition that taking government benefits and/or funds means subjecting yourself to more government control.  A healthy distrust of our government is an underlying tenet of our Constitution -- it's the reason that Congress has only enumerated powers rather than plenary powers.  The drafters wanted to limit what Congress could do.  

    Government money and benefits always come with government control. It's always a trade-off:  how much individual freedom are you willing to exchange for government services and benefits? When people say they don't want "big government," they generally do not like the federal government control that comes with federal government benefits.  

    One way of measuring the size of government is to measure the size of government spending, because government spending comes with government control.  That's why people look to government spending as a % of GDP as a measure of how "big" government is in terms of spending, and the associated control.  

    •  Individualism not the answer (0+ / 0-)

      Young adults often take out NO health insurance and don't make other wise precautions.  That isn't a virtue.  They've been hearing the small government message all their lives without enough debunking, so they may repeat what they've heard.  Yes, young adults who gamble on little or no insurance often win.  Most young people who drink and drive while wearing no seat belt win that bet too, but let's not say that makes it a god idea.  In a single payer system, young people will pay less for equal coverage as they will be paying lower taxes on lower incomes.

      •  Financially, individualism is better for some (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Whatithink, VClib

        not better for others.  That's the point.  We've run numbers -- a lot -- and a young healthy employee is better off with a very high deductible, catastrophic coverage plan and an HSA, than he/she is paying the higher premiums for a "full coverage" plan.  Other employees, with more chronic conditions, are not.  

        In the pre-ACA world, that young healthy employee had choices, and could chose the financially more advantageous option.  In the post-ACA world, that same employee doesn't have those same options, and will end up (most likely) paying more for a full coverage plan.  

        We carefully run those financial options each year for our employees, and go to a lot of effort to educate them as to all their options.  The ACA takes away some options that are more financially advantageous for some employees.

        That is the case with all government involvement.  Efforts to benefit us as a whole always result in less individual freedom.  It even manifests itself in silly things like NY's large drink ban.  In an effort to positively affect the health of "us" as a whole, I can no longer buy that large drink, even if I'm one of the people who only does that a couple of times a year.  

        Government involvement is almost always that kind of trade-off.  

        •  Partly you're confusing (0+ / 0-)

          ACA with government health care.  As I said, a single payer system might give fuller coverage at a lower price to young people than the pre-ACA private options.  ACA was designed to benefit big business, so it doesn't provide advantages that could have been otherwise.  Government involvement designed to be nice to billionaires will have more shortcomings.  Government involvement of, by & for the 99% will still have trade-offs (what doesn't), but will be better on the whole.  Anyone who can do better without society can go do so in the wilderness; those who want the benefits of a civilization lives within rules which should be made by the majority for the common good.  Should there be a law about large drinks?  The answer to that question doesn't tell us whether people should have to pay payroll taxes, whether public schools should require immunizations, whether we should be forbidden to throw our kitchen trash in the street, etc.  There's a difference between questioning individual laws and questioning government involvement as a whole.

          •  I don't know of anyone, even libertarians (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            nextstep, VClib

            who is questioning government "involvement as a whole."  It's a matter of degree.  Everyone, except for perhaps anarchists, agrees that government is a necessary thing, and that there are some things -- defense at the federal level, police protection at the local level, for example -- that government must do, because individuals cannot do that individually.  

            It's a matter of degree.  Everyone agrees there must be a government.  The questions are (1) what areas should the federal government be involved in -- where is it worth it to give up freedoms in exchange for government involvement?  Different people put that line in different places.  and (2) How involved should government be in those areas -- should it just be a "last resort" option for a few, or should it have direct control over everyone, for example?  Again, different people put that line in different places.  

            And, of course, we don't know whether single payer would be financially better, or worse, for that person who had a very high deductible plan and an HSA.  We do know that single payer is still going to have to have many people who pay in more than they take out, to make up for the few who don't pay in much but consume hundreds of thousands of dollars -- or even millions of dollars -- in heath care.  And, equally obvious is that it would have to limit options. When you don't pay for health care, you have no qualms about spending $50,000 dollars for a treatment that has a 2 in 10 chance of prolonging 90 year old great-grandma's life for 6 months.  Or, maybe great-grandma has been paying for years for a super "Cadillac" supplemental Medicare policy that would pay for it, so she gets that treatment.  For a single payer system to work financially, there are going to have to be limits on what services will be available in which instances -- and 90 year old great grandma won't get that treatment.  (You're more likely to end up with "single payer" plus -- where everybody pays taxes for a single payer system, but there's extra insurance coverage for those who can afford it, or an "outside of the government" system for those who can afford it (sort of like the fact that we all pay for public schools, but some pay extra to send kids to private schools).  

            Government involvement is always a trade off of freedom/independence for services/benefits.  Different people put the lines of when that is acceptable in different places.  

            •  Single payer doesn't mean (0+ / 0-)

              everyone has a comparable pay-in / pay-out, but private plans don't do that either.  Insurance companies figure their premium rates to get enough money for those with few bills & those with big bills.  It's not inherent to gov't.

      •  So in your big government scenario, (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        if a younger person is paying less for equal coverage, and in the private sector they are paying less because their risk is less, how is the first better if along with it comes a loss of freedom? I think sometimes you want everyone to buy into the 'anything that betters you and not society' is selfish meme, and that isn't always the case.

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