The Internet on which this wonderful site resides, on which I intend to post this message, exists, at least in some significant part, courtesy of its genesis via research funded through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Thank you, U.S. taxpayers. Last time I checked, self-proclaimed "liberals" and anti-government "conservatives" benefit greatly and mutually from this "BIG government" investment.
When it seemed to me that I'd run out of options to stay out of trouble with the law in Chicago during the Vietnam-era, I joined the U.S. Army (in those days, enlistment standards were not as rigorous as they are today). That Army fed, clothed, and trained me (in a number of things, including how to kill people, unfortunately--I guess), all at taxpayer expense. Unaware of this at the time, but due to my enlistment, once (and if) I survived that service, I qualified for very generous GI Bill education benefits. I doubt I would have ever gone to, or at least completed, college without those taxpayer-supported benefits. When several of my jobs have allowed me to speak in front of groups about how I came to stand before them with whatever expertise I supposedly possessed, I have always made a point of expressing my gratitude for the opportunities military service and the GI Bill afforded me. I do admit, however, that for about ten years following my separation from service, I actually kept my veteran status a well-guarded secret. Being a veteran wasn't too popular in those days.
I've read in several different places that since its inception the nation's investment into the GI Bill of Rights has continually provided a six-one to seven-one dollar return to the U.S. economy. Not too shabby for the USA, right? Though I admit the impact of this investment might be interpreted differently by those people inhabiting countries to which we send our military, I am focused here more on how enlightened investment in a nation and its people can produce a number of fruitful outcomes. Even the fact that I haven't been a ward of the state in jail since I left the Army and have been employed (more or less) and paid taxes dutifully since my discharge is, to me, a positive result for those who invested in my rehabilitation.
When I did go to college and felt I didn't "fit in" (it was the Vietnam-era after all), I left for almost two years and worked on the railroad. This was during the Carter-era, during economic hard times for the post-war country, and one of President Carter's programs to help stimulate the economy involved infrastructure investment. Through this, I was allowed to labor from spring to fall over two years, contemplate the meaning of my life, and decide that college wasn't so bad after all.
One of the many jobs I've had since college, indeed, the longest-term job I've had, involved working with colleges and universities to help them find external funds for research and development programs. This position allowed me to see first-hand how immeasurable is the "good" that can come from wisely invested taxpayer dollars. My job involved close study of grant programs funded by the National Science Foundation, NASA, and NOAA. Over that period, I spoke with dozens of scientists who rotated from academe to those agencies to ensure that the very best use was made of the funds that were put under their stewardship. Those dollars can be traced to projects that not only a scientist's and his/her disciplinary research, but advances his/her teaching, after a grantee scientist returns to the classroom to teach the nation's future scientists and educators the results of those government-funded activities. Truly, I can't imagine too many more enlightened uses of taxpayer dollars.
Recently, doing some research for book I've been dreaming of writing, I studied quite a bit about the advance of the railroads across the expanding U.S. empire during the mid- to late-19th century. Through obscene land-grants (often illegal, or at least immoral from a Native American standpoint), tax-breaks or outright giveaways, and such crass political venality that might offend the comparably polite sensibilities of modern, anti-government mouthpieces, BIG government left its indelible footprint on the history of industrial progress by helping to link the coasts via rail. All the while, the most visible "journalists" of the period kept their readers titillated, if not ill-informed, about the ultimate "good" this progress would represent, even ultimately for those poor, unenlightened souls wandering the plains and living in tee-pees. In fact, if the Indians were not in the way of progress because they held undeserved title to certain lands through easily broken treaties, they were outright terrorists for occasionally attacking the Iron Horses that were galloping the rails of manifest destiny. And it's strange to admit that after reading about all of the excesses of this period, I still have a romantic spot in my heart for railroads. Go figure.
Were the 19th century political handmaids to industrialists more venal and craven than today's mouthpieces for higher-tech moguls and international investors? I don't know. Were the yellow journalists of that period any more unworthy of the job description, "chronicler" than FOX News reporters are to that of "correspondents." I don't know that, either. Having looked at what I've shared, I guess I'm just saying that I, like my conservative, anti-government fellow citizens, really need me some pretty BIG government, whether I (or we) like it or not. I'm just not so sure my conservative, anti-government friends ever really consider how much that government has defined, and sustains, the myth of who we think we are as Americans.