by Carla Howell
Poll after poll shows that most Americans think government is too big. They want to shrink the size of government.
In order shrink government, we must run and support campaigns – candidates for office and ballot initiatives – that feature bold, small government proposals.
Bold, effective proposals are the engine, the oxygen, and the fuel for making government small. Without small government proposals, there’s no way to get from Big Government to small government.
How do you formulate a proposal that makes government small? It must remove a chunk of Big Government while appealing to the voters who want small government. Specifically, it must contains all ten of these critical ingredients:
1. It must substantially reduce the overall size of government
A small government proposal, if enacted into law, actually shrinks Big Government. It leaves us with substantially less overall government than what we have today. It moves us in the direction of small government.
This may sound obvious. But if you pay close attention to what candidates propose today – including some who call themselves “libertarians” – you’ll find…not much. Their proposals, if they even have any, often leave Big Government big. They offer no mechanism for making government small.
A true small government proposal substantially reduces the overall size, taxes, spending, or authority of government.
Dramatic, simultaneous cuts in both taxes and spending are obvious targets.
2. It must remove Big Government Programs, not transfer them to other government bodies.
Some proposals merely transfer government involvement from one level to another. For example, advocates make a case against the federal minimum wage. They rightfully explain how minimum wage laws cause the poorest workers to lose jobs. Then they suggest, “the states can take up the minimum wage if they want to. It’s just not the proper role of the federal government.”
But laws of economics apply just as much at the state level as they do at the federal government.
Transferring a federal agency or regulation to the state level keeps Big Government big. In order to make government small, we must end Big Government involvement altogether. We must discourage any and all attempts to revive it elsewhere.
3. Remove the Big Government Program. Do not replace it with a New, Improved Government Program.
Other proposals attempt to merely change the form of a Big Government tax, regulation, or program – without reducing the government’s overall size.
For example, a self-proclaimed advocate of liberty calls for eliminating one tax and replacing it with a new tax. He somehow thinks that Congress and state legislators need his help to do what they’re already very, very good at: coming up with new taxes.
Trust me. Politicians don’t need our help. By making it easy for them, we squander an opportunity to get rid of the tax altogether, to cut budgets, and to put that money back in the pockets of the taxpayers who earned it. To permanently remove tax revenues from Big Government’s coffers.
As the late, great presidential candidate Harry Browne used to say, “End the income tax, and replace it with nothing. Just you keeping your money.”
4. Match each tax cut with an equal spending cut. Match every spending cut with an equal tax cut.
Some proposals offer no reduction in the overall size of government because they only address one side of the equation: either taxes or spending. But tax and spending cuts must always go together.
If politicians cut spending in one area, they brag about their prudence – then go and spend all the money they freed up in another area of government. They almost never cut taxes and give it back to the taxpayer – unless we rally for it in the initial proposal.
We must lay claim to those freed up funds on behalf of the taxpayer – and take them out of the hands of Big Government politicians. Therefore, every spending cut proposal should include a commensurate tax cut.
Likewise, a tax cut without a commensurate cut in spending keeps Big Government big.
Without a mandate for lower overall spending, politicians will claim that we intended our tax cut to merely end a particular form of tax. They’ll seek to replace it with a new tax. They may call it a “fee” instead of a tax (a favorite ploy of Massachusetts ex-governor Mitt Romney). They may “close loopholes” and start enforcing tax collections that were not previously enforced (another favorite of Romney’s). They’ll go after smaller groups that don’t have as much voting power, such as businesses (yet another ploy of Romney’s).
One way or another, without a mandate for less overall government spending, politicians will find a way to squeeze more money out of taxpayers every time. Therefore, every tax cut proposal should include a commensurate spending cut.
True small government proposals never make it easy for politicians to keep Big Government big. Campaigns are an opportunity to create a mandate for small government. We should exploit them at every turn to make government small.
5. Small government. Every issue. Every time.
That’s why a true small government proposal never includes any expansions of government in any form whatsoever. No additional spending, no new or increased taxes or revenue for the government, no expansion of government authority, no new debt, no new government assets, and no new government obligations.
Small government. Every issue. Every time. No exceptions. No excuses.
6. Small government actions, not just opinions
A true small government proposal is real. It is not a vague concept. It is not something that a candidate wants, agrees with, or thinks is a good idea. It’s something a candidate promises to act on if elected.
True small government candidates pledge to take specific action to implement the proposal. They promise, for example, to sponsor legislation, vote for a bill, sign a bill, and/or exercise other authorities of the office they seek to get the proposal enacted into law.
7. Broad-based benefits
The most effective small government proposals are broad-based enough to benefit a large percentage of the voters in a federal, state, or local election. A lot of potential voters are therefore motivated to go to the polls and vote for it.
For example, ending a state or the federal income tax benefits the majority of voters.
In contrast, curtailing eminent domain, while a good idea, directly benefits only a small handful of voters who see an imminent threat of property seizure. This alone will not serve to substantially reduce Big Government – nor motivate a lot of voters.
8. Big benefits
Small government proposals are bold and offer the average voter substantial, direct benefits. They have as much appeal as getting a big pay raise or winning a modest lottery. Voters are much more likely to mark the date of the election on their calendars, register to vote, and show up at the polls. If the candidate or ballot initiative were to win, voters win big.
For example, ending the federal income tax would put over $12,000 back in the pockets of the average taxpayer – every year. That’s worth voting for!
In contrast, reducing a tax rate by a small percentage may give back the average voter as little as $25 every year. This offers a very weak incentive to vote.
9. Show voters the direct benefits to them.
A good salesman always spells out the benefits of what he’s selling to his prospects. He answers their question, “What’s in it for me?”
Candidates, ballot initiative spokespersons, and others advocating a small government proposal must show the benefits that result from it. We must connect the dots. We must help voters imagine how this proposal will make their life better.
For example: “Ending the income tax will give back an average of over $12,000 to each taxpayer – every year. That’s $12,000 that you can spend, save, or give away. $12,000 more in your pocket that you can use to buy a car, save for your retirement, or pay off a school loan.”
10. It must be implemented immediately.
A proposal that goes into effect gradually or long after the election has two problems.
First, voters are less interested in it. They can’t get an immediate payback for their effort. They are less motivated to vote.
Second, once an election is over, voters lose power. In contrast, special interests who want more government gain power. They are more likely to undermine the proposal if it doesn’t go into effect immediately. Therefore, the proposal should take full effect as soon as possible after the election.
A small government candidate promises to work to implement the proposal immediately after being elected.
A small government ballot initiative takes full effect as soon after the election as possible.
Here’s a checklist to guide your choices.
There’s a lot of Big Government in America. To shrink it, we need candidates and ballot initiatives that offer proposals with all ten of these critical, small government ingredients:
1. The proposal serves to shrink the overall size, spending, taxes, and/or authority of Big Government. Unequivocally.
2. It removes a chunk of Big Government – and offers no help to give it life at another level of government.
3. It removes a chunk of Big Government – and replaces it with nothing.
4. Tax cuts include commensurate overall spending cuts, and vice versa.
5. The proposal does not in any way expand Big Government. Small government. Every issue. Every time. No exceptions. No excuses.
6. When proposed by a candidate, he promises to take specific actions to make it happen, e.g., voting or sponsoring legislation.
7. The proposal directly benefits a large portion of voters in the district for which it is offered.
8. The proposal offers huge, direct benefits to the average voter.
9. The candidate or spokesperson spells out those benefits for voters.
10. The proposal takes effect in full as soon as possible, if not immediately.
A proposal that lacks any of these ingredients risks going nowhere.
A proposal that includes all of these ingredients will wake up voters, get them to the polls, and make small government a real possibility.
Isn’t that what you want?