Smaller Government? Smaller Than What?

by Michael Cloud

 

“Do you want smaller government?” asks a political candidate.

“Yes, I do,” you answer.

“Great! So do I,” he says. Then he tells you about his campaign – and asks for your support.

Should you support him? Should you vote for him?

Not until you ask him some pointed questions. Not until he gives you some very clear answers. And not until he demonstrates that he is sincerely committed to shrinking government.

Is this a jaded or cynical attitude? Not at all.

It's simply a matter of making sure the politician means what he seems to be saying.

Because politicians are masters of sounding like they agree with you. Experts at saying things in ways that seem like they are on your side. Magicians with words and phrasing.

You use words honestly and honorably. You say what you mean. Clearly and directly. So do I. So do most people.

That's why politicians are able to take advantage of good and honest people. Because it normally wouldn't occur to us that someone would cold-bloodedly try to deceive and mislead us.


What We Assume

When you hear the phrase “smaller government,” what does it mean to you?

“Government smaller than it is today?” That's what it means to most people.

Do you want to make government smaller than it is today? Harry Browne did. Carla Howell does. I do. You do, too.

We assume that people are talking in plain, straightforward terms.

But what if some people wanted to take advantage of our common sense assumption that “smaller government” equals “government smaller than it is today?”

What if some people wanted to lawyer the phrase “smaller government” to mean something different – without exactly lying to us?


Comparatives

“Smaller. Bigger. Taller. Shorter. Stronger. Weaker. Hotter. Colder. Higher. Lower.”

All of these words are comparatives.

In order to understand them, we need to compare them to something else: “Compared to what?”

Put each comparative term in a sentence ending with: “Than what?”

Smaller than what? Lower than what?

Smaller government? Smaller than what?

Lower taxes? Lower than what?


Smaller Government? Smaller Than What?

“My opponent will raise government spending by over 20%, but I will only raise it by 14%,” says the politician. “I am offering you smaller government than my opponent.”

“As a percentage of the Gross Domestic Product, even with the spending increases I propose, government will be smaller than it is today,” says another.

“On a per capita spending basis, my higher government budget will, in fact, give us a smaller government,” says a third.

“Adjusted for inflation, even with my spending increases, we will have a smaller government,” says a fourth.

When confronted with this language lawyering, when faced with this political slight-of-mouth, there's only one thing to do:

Ask a plain, simple question where you supply the comparative.

Ask: “Are you proposing a budget that's lower than this year's budget?”

Follow up with: “How much lower than this year's budget?” And: “Exactly how much is your proposed budget? How many dollars?”

Ask: “Are you campaigning for a government that's smaller than this year's government?”

Follow up with: “How much smaller than this year's government?” And: “Exactly what do you intend to remove or reduce?”

Compare all political promises and proposals to this year's government. To this year's budget or spending.

This year's government spending and size is the yardstick.

This year's government budget and size is the standard of comparison.

Compared to what? Smaller than what? This year's government.


Fill in the Blank – Include the Missing Standard of Comparison

Want “Truth-In-Labeling” for your political discussions about making government smaller than it is today?

Make the implicit, explicit.

Clearly and plainly state your standard of comparison: this year's government spending.

This year's government budget is the yardstick.

Example: “This year's federal government spending is $2.8 Trillion. Is your proposed spending higher or lower than $2.8 Trillion? How much?”

Simply and directly challenge their claim of “smaller government” by filling in the blank with this year's spending.

Example: “This year's federal government spending is $2.8 Trillion. You are campaigning to raise spending to $3 Trillion. But you claim that your proposal would make government smaller. Please explain this.”

Use raw numbers - NOT percentages – in your comparisons.

Do NOT say: “This year's federal government budget is $2.8 Trillion. You are campaigning to raise spending by 7%. But you claim that you're making government smaller. Please explain this.”

A 7% increase in government spending sounds like pocket change.

Complaining about a 7% spending increase makes you look petty.

DO say: “This year's federal government budget is $2.8 Trillion. You're campaigning to raise federal spending by $200 Billion per year. But you claim that your $200 Billion spending increase will make government smaller. Please explain this.”

DO say:

“You want to spend $200 Billion MORE than this year's budget. You're making government bigger.”

Or: “You want to add another $200 Billion in federal spending to this year's $2.8 Trillion budget. That's bigger government.”

Or: “You believe that this year's $2.8 Trillion federal budget isn't high enough. You want to increase it to $3 Trillion next year. You're making Big Government even bigger.”

Or: “You propose to make this year's $2.8 Trillion federal budget $200 Billion bigger. You're proposing more Big Government.”


Truth-In-Labeling Shall Set Us Free

Smaller than what? This year's government budget.

Smaller than what? This year's government spending.

Smaller than what? This year's government.

Isn't that what you want?

Copyright 2006 by Michael Cloud

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