Stop Complaining About Big Government & Embrace It
Bigger government means bigger smiles – but don’t tell that to Republicans. It’s nearly impossible to go a day in Washington without hearing a Republican complain about the horrors of “big government.” That’s because they love to blame “big government” for all of our nation’s problems, big or small.
Just last week in an op-ed for Time Magazine, Senator Rand Paul blamed big government for the chaos that we’re seeing in Ferguson, Missouri, saying that, “Not surprisingly, big government has been at the heart of the problem.” But somebody needs to tell Senator Paul and the Republicans that, according to solid scientific research, it turns out that a bigger government makes for a happier and more satisfied public. That’s right. Political science researchers with Baylor University’s College of Arts and Sciences found that, “the effect of state intervention into the economy equals or exceeds marriage or employment status -- two traditional predictors of happiness -- when it comes to satisfaction.”
In their study published in the journal Social Forces, the researchers looked at data from 21 OECD nations - the world's most developed countries - in the World Values Survey from 1981 to 2007. They compared the countries based on a variety of factors, including social welfare expenditures as a percentage of GDP, the ease of access to welfare and social service benefits, and overall government spending as a percentage of GDP. The researchers then spoke with nearly 50,000 respondents across the 21 countries about their general well-being, and asked them, “All things considered, how satisfied are you with your life as a whole these days?”
The respondents were then asked to score their well-being and satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10. The U.S. came in eleventh in the rankings, with Americans scoring their well-being and satisfaction at an average of 7.61. That’s not surprising, considering that the U.S. is just one of two OECD countries (South Korea being the other one) that doesn’t spend the highest percentage of its total budget on social services. The most satisfied countries were Denmark, Switzerland and Iceland.
Denmark, Switzerland and Iceland are towards the top of the list when it comes to total government spending on social services as a percentage of GDP. I can personally attest to how much the Danish government cares about the social safety net and the well-being of its people. Five or six years ago, I traveled to Denmark and did my radio show for a week from Copenhagen. During my time in that city, I spoke to a member of Copenhagen’s city council, who told me a remarkable story about a little girl. The young girl was disabled and was living in a 2 or 3 story building, and she had to be carried up and down the stairs everyday by her parents.
When news spread of the girl’s and the family’s struggles, the people of Copenhagen decided that something had to be done to help the family have a better quality of life. So, the Copenhagen city officials decided that it would move the family to a building with an elevator. But then the city realized that would mean the girl would have to change schools, make new friends and go through a lot of adjustments. They decided that would be too much of a burden to put on the girl. So, the city decided that the girl would have the best quality of life if it built an elevator on the outside of her building leading right to her apartment. And that’s exactly what the city did.
If that doesn’t show you how much the Danish government values its people and their well-being, think about this: Even Conservatives in Denmark are in favor of social welfare programs.
During my time in Denmark, I also had the opportunity to speak with conservative Danish lawmakers, who said they were thrilled with their country’s social welfare programs. Actually, the main thing that made them self-identify as "conservative" was their opposition to immigration. Unfortunately, back here in the U.S., conservatives have managed to attach stigmas to increased government spending and “big government.” But we can get rid of those stigmas, by collectively re-learning the lessons our parents and grandparents learned after the Great Depression: government can be a huge force for good. Be it the WPA or the GI Bill, "big government" programs helped build this nation.
When it comes to government, it’s not about how big or small it is. It’s about how effective or ineffective it is. Americans deserve an effective government that works for everyone, one that provides a strong social safety net to help people get back on their feet and defends workers, students, and the working class. Once that happens, America will finally have a shot at true happiness.