Let’s respond to politicians, pundits, and journalists who sing a chorus about the threat of “big government” by telling them to stop pretending. Stop pretending that government is, by definition, an obstruction and a problem. Put them on the defensive. Challenge them to back up their claims, because they can’t. Their answers will be full of holes, easy to shoot down, and will only draw more attention to the story that few prominent voices are acknowledging.
Stop pretending that most Americans—including themselves—have thrived “on their own,” without government. Most Americans, and especially the economically stable and affluent, have long benefitted from and indeed depended on the federal presence and federal spending, both direct and indirect. Stop pretending that homeowners (those not underwater) have not received heavy subsidies from the federal government since World War II via powerful mortgage insurance programs and the tax code. Stop pretending that business owners, small and (especially) large have not relied on federal regulation and largesse, ranging from trade policies to generous spending on research and development to the direct federal purchases that have sustained countless markets (aerospace, synthetics, the computer industry, the internet. . .). Stop pretending that agribusiness does not sustain its profit margin thanks to significant federal subsidies that are regularly renewed by Congress. Stop pretending that the American financial sector is some kind of “free market” miracle, testament solely to the entrepreneurial spirit and creative powers of farsighted investors. Stop pretending that Americans with steady, well-paying jobs and health insurance have simply earned their good fortune, whereas those who struggle have not yet proven their worth.
The list goes on and on. Let’s challenge these commentators and policy makers to document their claims, to prove their argument. Let’s challenge them to stop pretending that the “market,” alone, picks the winners and losers. Let’s tell them to do their homework, to look at what actually happened and how government actions continue to shape the playing field. It’s clear, for anyone who looks, that the lines between the private and public sectors have never been so sharp. Challenge one of these voices to stop pretending, and demand that they make their case. Because they can’t.