Is government on your side? That’s the big question Friday’s editorial tackles:
The legislature passed its $6 billion budget on Wednesday, sending the spending plan to Gov. Nikki Haley, who now has a few days to decide whether to veto any parts of it. The $6 billion is just part of a larger budget that tops $20 billion after federal funds, agency fees and other revenue sources are added in.
Those numbers cause some to shake their heads at what they see as our government’s excess and complain about the evils of Big Government. We respectfully disagree.
It’s become fashionable over the past few decades to pin many woes on the role or size of government. President and conservative icon Ronald Reagan wasn’t the first to seize on the topic, but he did much to popularize this mindset, with quips such as “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’”
Many Americans have taken that refrain to heart. Polls have found that a large contingent of people believe government at all levels – though particularly on the federal level – to be populated by untrustworthy, corrupt spendthrifts who do little for them on a daily basis. The size of our government and its regulations have been blamed for everything from the recent housing crisis to a lack of work ethic in our younger generation. Politicians crow when they dismantle another government agency.
Government certainly has its issues, it can’t be denied. Waste is created at all levels, tasks are duplicated, and tax money is spent on projects of dubious necessity. Nevertheless, its positives far outweigh the alternative. Government is not the enemy, and the passage of our state budget offers a good reminder of that truth.
Just consider how much government touches your life each day. If you call up a friend on your cell phone to complain about this editorial, you’re relying on the Federal Communications Commission, which makes sure your call can make it through the radio, TV and other signals filling the airwaves. If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you were taught by a public school teacher. If you drink a glass of water, you probably take for granted that your local government filters harmful bacteria out of the water. When you drive to work, it will be on roads paid for, constructed and monitored by a government agency.
The idea that government is somehow set up to keep its citizens enslaved and beholden to its interests runs counter to what we see around us every day. The government has enabled us to lead longer lives today than ever before, with safer food, safer roads and safety nets.
We routinely hear calls – most often in campaign season, by those seeking to become part of the government – to shrink government and expand some sort of vague “freedom.” But the institution of government is not the problem in many government programs. That blame should fall instead on those who govern. The inefficiency and waste we bemoan can be traced to normal human weaknesses of greed, self interest, arrogance and confusion.
If our system of government can be compared to a child of the Founding Fathers, we are all its adoptive parents. If that child is unruly, undisciplined and prone to temper tantrums, it does not follow that we should reflexively chop off its head and turn our backs. Instead, we must remind the child who is in charge and pull it back into line.
If we don’t like our governments or their spending – and the decisions of our leaders at every level often fall short of our expectations – we should amend the systems in place, not merely complain of their existence. Government is good – yes, really – and maybe with a little work we can make it even better.