Thinking Out Loud: How is Government Like a Family?

While it isn’t doesn’t fit, politicians, especially conservative ones, like to make a false analogy comparing running government with running a business or, even worse, managing a family budget.  These things are quite different in purpose, scope, and process, but regardless of the flaws, let’s go with the analogy for moment.

Let’s use the family analogy.  Let’s pull up around the family kitchen table and talk some common sense.

First let’s ask what managing a family budget means.  What, for example, do keeping a safe and comfortable house, having a car, going on vacations, feeding your family, having a phone, wearing clothes, and all the many other things living the civilized life have in common?

family-meetingAll these things in one way or another cost money.  They also are things people do because they are necessary for survival as well as important for maintaining a comfortable and fruitful quality of life.  Yes, and happiness matters, too.  In terms of well-being happiness is right up there with security.  Hand in glove.

We might not like to spend money, perhaps, but we do these things because we recognize the value of these things.  It is even a matter of pride to do these things right.  Now if a comparison with government is germane, what happens to value and pride when we talk about supporting government?

I suppose we can debate about what it takes to live a safe, comfortable, and productive life, but in many ways we can see that government fails to provide the same level and quality of service toward these ends as it once did.

Instead of a house, car, food, phones, and so forth government provides for things like roads, courts, parks, education, public safety, clean food and water, regulated commerce, banking, and monetary systems, and on and on and on.  Literally, something for everyone, even the most remote misanthrope benefits directly and indirectly from a well-managed, large, and robust government.

At the fundamental level, our shared public investment in public assets supports strong economic growth, a healthy society, and security.  It has made the United States attractive to talent from around the world.

And the presumption that government is inherently bad — the problem, not the solution — is an argument which is completely silly, almost childish, and violates common sense.  It is absurd to the point of being funny if it were not so dangerous.  Government is only the problem when it is set up to fail.

If we do indeed apply the family analogy to government, would we be proud to let our family go to hell in a hand basket?  Probably not.  But we are letting our government go to hell.

15captial-graph-popupDon’t people, rich and poor alike, do better in a secure society?  Don’t you want healthy, educated friends and neighbors?  Whatever happened to civic pride and shared accomplishment?  We all come with a range of talents and interests and a strong social structure enables each to pursue his or her interests best.

The family analogy of course doesn’t apply to government and it really isn’t intended to apply.  It is a misleading trope used to distract people from the real goal of renegade conservatives.  The anti-government people are not trying to save the economy, for example, for the benefit of your children’s future, they just want to gut government.

Certainly not everyone will use the public library, need economic assistance, or enroll in public schools, but you also don’t ride on all the roads in your state either, but most of us use the roads, even if indirectly.  Likewise,  everyone benefits, even if indirectly, from the higher quality of life that a safe, secure, and strong government.  This has value and it doesn’t come free.  We have to pay for it and as any family knows, you cannot cut your way to higher standard of living.

Taxes need to be justified and appropriate, but nothing says we cannot choose to reinvest in our collective future.  It is a choice to do so or not to do so.  It appears that we are making the wrong choices.

This Doesn't Feel Quaint Anymore

This Doesn’t Feel Quaint Anymore

Over thirty years of subsidizing and rewarding the most fortunate while asking the least fortunate to pay more and get by with less hasn’t working.  If all you need to do is ensure that “job creators” have money to invest and jobs will magically appear, we should be seeing job growth.  Instead money is out of service…resting, I suppose…in the enormous portfolios of the very wealthy, a group very skilled at getting benefits from government and evading taxes.

And taxes per se are not bad.  In business, for example, fair and consistent tax policy has little long-run effect on growth compared with tax policy that gives breaks and incentives inconsistently across industries, regions, revenues, and so it.  Taxes in that case can give one business, industry, or region a competitive advantage over another.  And some business types have other demand drivers that outweigh tax issues.  The state’s grocery stores will not all move to South Dakota, for example, if they feel bullied by taxes.  Other things happen…the cost of groceries go up, but grocery stores would compete on an even playing field and survive as long as people demand groceries.  When business cries foul, it usually a reflects a fear of unbalanced competitive advantages that fair tax policy should address.  Nevertheless, that does not mean taxes are necessarily bad and need to be cut.  The politics of anti-tax rhetoric has gone beyond the reality of tax policy outcomes.

In the end, we need to choose what kind of future we want and plan for it.  Part of that planning will include paying for it.  That doesn’t mean we willy-nilly triple tax rates and recklessly expand government.  However we will not restore valuable government services and facilities if we start from the premise that they are inherently bad and without social or economic value.

designallThe one way that government is like a family is simple.  For it to work and thrive, you have to respect it, believe in it.  You have to be ready to support it, even occasionally sacrifice for it.  It is that simple.


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