Does the public favor a large active government and why?Does the public favor a large active government and why?

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litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

The public always seems to come out in favor of smaller government, but when it comes down to cutting programs, they balk. Programs come from bigger government. All of the programs that people want to keep require oversight.
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Lori Steinbach | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

It seems to me the public may favor a large government, simply based on the fact that we have one.  It always sounds good to provide new services and new programs targeted at various aspects of our population, and as mentioned above, the numbers are either hidden or almost too numbing to deal with.  I'm intrigued, though, by the word "active."  More and more lately, I'm hearing people express their thankfulness for recesses and impasses and other action-stoppers.  Perhaps it's a temporary state of affairs, with elections on the horizon, but a little time without any major new legislative action doesn't seem to be a bad thing. 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I think that the answer depends on who is being asked.  From the most broad of senses, the idea of what constitutes a "large, active government" is going to be something of considerable debate.  Many who are opposed to the size of government point to the Constitutionality of the issue, without fully acknowledging that the nation has changed since the Framers' time in terms of size and needs.  Another issue here is that when the government grows to give entitlements or money to individuals, there is little opposition. People might criticize the stimulus plan as well as entitlement and protection programs on theoretical grounds, but there is a level of practicality that allows them to "make peace" with the issue.  For example, I don't think many people refuse to invest their money in banks because the FDIC is there to protect investments.  This would be an instance when there is a large federal government that directly benefits individuals, hence little in way of actual opposition.

With these elements being said, I do believe that the public is very quickly persuaded by fears of a large government.  Labels like "Socialist" or "Controlling" are tossed around certain projects to conjure the image in one's mind of how to see government and its growth.  The recent health care debate was one such example.  Yet, the vast majority of Americans end up understanding the needs government meets and puts aside theory for pragmatism in understanding the role of a larger government.  I am not sure if this is good or bad, but it might be one of those instances where it is what it is.

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dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

It depends upon which sector of the public you ask simply because most Americans would respond to that question based upon their political beliefs which often times are connected to their socio-economic reality. However, there are also people who believe in a large active government who do not need any of the services that big government programs offer.

In addition, it must be noted that the idea of a large active government was born in the 20th century with F.D.R.'s New Deal policies. Before 1933 the federal government had very little to do with the everyday lives of Americans with the exception of Federal Income Tax in 1912 and Prohibition in 1920, most issues resided on the State and local level.  Several historians debate that the growth of federal power could be attributed to the changing nature and complexities of the nation, as well as the political party in office.

dbello's profile pic

dbello | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted on

It depends upon which sector of the public you ask simply because most Americans would respond to that question based upon their political beliefs which often times are connected to their socio-economic reality. However, there are also people who believe in a large active government who do not need any of the services that big government programs offer.

In addition, it must be noted that the idea of a large active government was born in the 20th century with F.D.R.'s New Deal policies. Before 1933 the federal government had very little to do with the everyday lives of Americans with the exception of Federal Income Tax in 1912 and Prohibition in 1920, most issues resided on the State and local level.  Several historians debate that the growth of federal power could be attributed to the changing nature and complexities of the nation, as well as the political party in office.

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brettd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I agree with the above post, or at least, I would argue that the American people have a long history of opposing big government when they speak, and then supporting it when it benefits them directly.  People criticize the deficit, for example, but they still cash their Social Security checks and use their Medicare benefits.  Americans tend to support other big ticket government programs like the military and our two wars, even though they represent hundreds of billions of dollars in spending each year, and millions of Americans work for them, something many people commonly say they are against.

So we have a sort of split personality on the issue.  We talk a good game when it comes to "keeping government small", but as soon as it affects our own lives and our personal benefits, then we change our tune.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Up to this point, the public has tended to favor a large and relatively active government.  At least, they have voted for people who have created such a government.  Here are a few reasons why:

  • A large government brings obvious benefits to people.  If you are hired to build a road or a government building, government programs obviously help you.  If the government helps your business with a "cash for clunkers" program, you will like the government.
  • The costs of such programs are largely hidden.  The government pays for many of these programs by going deeper in debt so we see the benefits of the programs but not the costs.  This means that even people who don't want a large government will not get too mad if the government does expand because it does not actually hurt them.
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krishna-agrawala | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

Posted on

I believe the favour of public for an active government will be very much influenced by the nature of activities. Government can be very active in matters like passing new legislation and launching new programs with huge investments. but may fail to achieve result in terms of peace and prosperity for the people.

Similarly a government can be very active in introducing new controls or relaxing the existing ones. The reaction of public towards such activities will therefore depend more on nature of activities than just the level of activities. Also, different groups of people within a country may react differently to the same government action.

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