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How Big Should the Government Be?

(Photo: Chris Christner / Flickr)

This past Tuesday, Brandon from Missouri called into my radio show and asked me how big I think government should be. He asked me what the “liberal” end goal is as far as the size of government.

And while I answered him when he called, I want to take a little more time to answer that question right here, because it seems to be on the mind of a lot of people who think they’re conservatives or libertarians.

Brandon, I want our government to be big enough so that it can successfully stop Big Pharma from selling us drugs at five times the price as other countries.

Look at the cholesterol-fighting drug Lipitor.

In New Zealand – a prescription for Lipitor costs – on average – just six dollars. And in South Africa and Spain – it costs $11 and $13 respectively.

But here in the United States – a prescription of Lipitor costs – on average – $100.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s outrageous. Our government needs to be big enough so that it can reel in profiteering pharmaceutical companies, and make medications affordable for all Americans.

I also want our government to big enough so that it can regulate factories and fertilizer plants, instead of letting them explode and kill people, like the tragedy we saw play out in West, Texas. American workers must be able to go to work, and know that they’re going to be safe, and that all precautions that need to be taken, have been taken.

Our government needs to be big enough to send the banksters to jail who caused this country to collapse in 2008. People like JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon and Goldman Sachs’ Lloyd Blankfein, who have caused real and lasting damage to the American economy and society, can no longer get off with just a slap on the wrist.

The United States government needs to big enough to successfully regulate the banks, and hold Wall Street cronies accountable for their negligent actions, so that they can’t be repeated again and again.

It needs to be big enough to break up monopolies and giant transnational corporations, and instead encourage the growth of small businesses on Main Street.

And in the process of breaking up the monopolies, the government needs to be big enough to bring good-paying jobs back home to America, instead of allowing giant corporations to outsource them to third-world countries where they have what Pope Francis correctly called “slaves” as their laborers.

Our government needs to be big enough to provide quality and affordable healthcare for all Americans. It needs to be big enough to keep the social safety net intact, so that when Americans fall down, they’re able to get back up, dust themselves off, and begin trying to live the American Dream once again.

The American government needs to be big enough so that it can provide a quality, affordable education for everyone, so that students that attend college don’t graduate with mountains of student loan debt that will haunt them for much of their adult lives.

And our government needs to be big enough to educate all Americans about the perils of climate change and global warming, and be able to put in the work that it takes to curb climate change and prevent a total environmental catastrophe. Part of that work includes breaking America’s toxic addiction to fossil fuels, and instead investing heavily in the clean and green energies of the future, like wind and solar.

Finally, the United States government needs to be big enough to bring back the Fairness Doctrine, the policy introduced in 1949 by the FCC that required broadcast news channels to present real news in an honest, fair and balanced way. Americans deserve real facts and real news, not constant streams of misinformation and opinions disguised as news.

The bottom-line here is that our government is not big enough.

It’s not big enough to bring down the costs of prescription medications. It’s not big enough to ensure that all Americans have access to affordable education and affordable healthcare. And it’s not big enough to throw banksters in jail, or to stop corporations from outsourcing jobs.

On the other hand, I do not want our government to be playing in the private sector – the means of production and distribution. I want my jeans and my computer and my car to be made by private companies. I want every American to be able to become an entrepreneur. I want people to be able to form corporations and cooperatives to make goods and services that the rest of us want.

Government should keep itself to two simple areas: protecting and running the commons, and regulating capitalism so it doesn’t destroy us. In my opinion our commons doesn’t just include the police and fire department and the army, it also includes education and healthcare. But that’s it.

And that’s enough, by the way. The Framers of the Constitution explicitly said in the Preamble that they were creating it to promote the “General Welfare.” They gave, in Article 1, Section 8, Congress the power to raise taxes and spend money to “promote the General Welfare.” In my mind, that means build, protect, and run the commons; and keep us safe from corporate and fat-cat predators.

Government spending to do these things here in the US makes up just 21% of our GDP. In Canada, it makes up around 45% of that nation’s GDP. In most European countries it’s about half, and in the countries that aren’t practicing conservative austerity – the Scandinavian countries that are doing so well right now – it’s around 60 percent of GDP.

So Brandon, maybe one day I’ll be able to say that our government is “big enough”, but that day is certainly not today. We have a long way to go.

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