Big Government Hammer

"When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything starts looking like a nail," said Psychologist Abraham Maslow.

When a news story focuses exclusively on Big Government points of view, we call it a Big Government Hammer BIGGIB. It assumes that Big Government Programs must be enacted, sustained, enforced, and grown to solve a problem. It is usually accompanied by calls for increased spending and taxes to fund them. It ignores small government solutions - as if they don't exist.

Mainstream media news stories quote or interview people who represent a Big Government point of view. Very rarely does the news cover sources who advocate shrinking the size, scope, spending, or authority of government. They limit opposition voices to protesting newly-proposed Big Government expansion. The only options they put on the table for discussion are variations on how or whether to grow Big Government, not whether to reduce it.

Big Government Hammer BIGGIBS are everywhere. Perhaps 95% of all news and political commentary involving government focuses exclusively on Big Government points of view.

When you hear a news story about government policy, take note as to whether all the solutions presented are Big Government. Ask yourself: What would a small government solution be?

Example 1:

A Republican politician criticizes a Big Government welfare program, calling it bloated and ineffective. But then he claims we can fix it by merely reforming it. If you look carefully at his proposal, you'll see that he doesn't propose cutting even a dime of government spending.

The Democrats counter with a different reform proposal, which calls for more spending.

The media covers the two proposals ad nauseam - while never mentioning any small government alternative.

A small government advocate would point out not only that government welfare does more harm than good but that reforms don't work either. Reforms make things worse. Reforms makes Big Government Programs bigger, more complicated, more expensive, and more destructive. Big Government is unreformable.

A small government advocate would call for immediately reducing or eliminating the failed and destructive government welfare programs - and cutting total government spending.

Example 2:

When we hire someone to do a job, we expect them to do the work. We feel cheated if they don't do it.

Users of the Big Government Hammer BIGGIB take advantage of this sentiment by making taxpayers feel cheated if a politician is a legislative loafer. They portray legislators as shirking on their duty unless they're "doing the business of government", which usually means passing bills to create new or expanded Big Government laws and regulations. Or they portray them as ineffective if they don't sponsor important bills. By focusing our attention on legislative accomplishments, they encourage us to think of "the business of government" as constructive - rather than destructive.

But as Mark Twain said, "No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the congress is in session."

Most bills hurt more than they help. They're a case study in pork barrel spending. Legislators (state and federal) don't even read most bills they vote on, which are often hundreds of pages long. They show even less concern for the destruction that is wrought by their votes after their bill takes effect.

To move in the direction of small government, we'd be better off if Big Government legislators stayed home - with or without pay - and never came to work at all. Therefore we should reject the idea of legislative work as a positive "achievement" and look at it instead as a means of enriching the government at the expense of taxpayers - while doing great harm.

Example 3:

When Big Government advocates push for government funding of scientific research, they claim or imply that the research won't happen at all unless the government funds it. They accuse anyone who opposes government funding of thwarting scientific progress.

But the opposite is true: government involvement in research retards scientific discovery and especially medical breakthroughs that are potentially life-saving.

They get away with this deception because Big Government funds billions of dollars in research every year. It has preempted a lot of free market research in key areas of science, such as medicine and astronomy. This allows Big Government advocates to pretend that if the government doesn't fund it, it won't get funded at all.

In spite of Big Government's usurpation of the research marketplace, great innovations occur in the private sector. Many more will occur if we end all Big Government involvement in research.

Example 4:

The mainstream news media covers candidates and their policy proposals when they propose to EXPAND or SUSTAIN Big Government. But they give minimal coverage to candidates who propose to SHRINK it.

For example, during the 2000 presidential campaign, the media covered Al Gore's "lock box", i.e., his promoise not to reduce seniors' Social Security benefits. The media also covered, both during thecampaign and since he proposed it, President George Bush's plan to "privatize" a small portion of the program - giving wage earners and the self-employed the option of placing about 13% of the mandated social security "contribution" in a government-approved, government-controlled fund that is merely "directed by" its recipient - not fully owned. Bush's proposal leaves intact the remaining 87% that the federal government now collects and fully controls every year.

Both the Gore and Bush alternatives give the government continued control over this substantial portion of your wages. Both would leave this dangerous and destructive Big Government Program solidly in place. Both keep taxes high, or more likely, will raise them even higher.

In contrast, 2000 presidential candidate Harry Browne proposed a small government solution. He called for a complete end to the program. An immediate end to the Social Security payroll tax. Liquidating federal assets in order to give lump sum payments to seniors who were financially dependent on the program. Seniors would have total control of their retirement nest egg. True ownership with no strings attached. Wage earners would get a huge tax cut and have much more money to save for their retirement.

Many voters in 2000 would have liked to hear about Harry Browne's plan. However he, like every candidate who calls for bold reductions in government, was given a fraction of the media coverage his campaign deserved.

You may assume this is reasonable since Harry Browne was the Libertarian candidate with little chance of winning the election. However this rationale was belied when Browne was AHEAD of Reform candidate Pat Buchanan in the polls, and yet NBC's Tim Russert refused to include Browne in a third party debate on Meet the Press. Instead he included only Buchanan and Ralph Nader, despite Buchanan's lower poll numbers. Both Buchanan and Nader proposed keeping Big Government big.

Tim Russert and Meet the Press allowed only Big Government solutions a place at the table. They refused to give a voice to small government.

Example 5:

Former President Bill Clinton appointed his wife Hillary Clinton to a task force charged with devising a federal government policy for universal health care (socialized medicine) in 1993. Her proposal enjoyed extensive news coverage. Although her initial policy was defeated in a lawsuit, and although it was sharply criticized by Republicans, it set the stage for major expansions in health care that have been enacted - incrementally - with bipartisan support since then.

News coverage focused on the alleged benefits of her program, on whether the proposal would be enacted, and on the alleged plight of the millions of Americans who are "uninsured". These issues continue to dominate health care news today - over a decade later.

The mainstream news media refused to cover proposals to shrink or remove existing government meddling in medical care. Coverage of opposition to Big Government medicine has been limited to opposing new Big Government Programs. The mainstream news media blacks out bold proposals to remove existing Big Government Programs - such as Medicare, Medicaid, or the FDA.

Example 6:

Another example of Big Government Hammer is use of the word "deficit" as explained in Michael Cloud's essay: "Deficit" or "Overspending": the Difference One Word Makes