Ken Connor

Let's face it. Americans love things that are big. We love big houses, big cars, and Big Gulps. We supersize our meals, our TV sets and even our golf clubs (Big Bertha has revolutionized the game of many a duffer). Athletes take steroids to make themselves bigger, and people who are not satisfied with their natural endowments resort to surgery to bolster their appeal. After all, in America, size matters.

Regrettably, however, our love affair with all things big appears to extend to government. Government spending relative to GDP has grown dramatically in the past century—from 5.5% to 28.9%. Federal deficits have risen from $50.7 billion in 1940 to an estimated $9.3 trillion in 2007. In the past decade, total state spending increased a whopping 88%, from $628,634,000,000 to $1,184,146,000,000. Clearly, the era of big government is back.

When it comes to government, however, smaller is better than bigger and you get more with less.

More what? More freedom.

There is, you see, an inverse relationship between the size of government and the amount of freedom we enjoy. As government expands, freedom shrinks. As government shrinks, freedom expands. Less government, more freedom—it's as simple as that.

Historically conservatives have understood the relationship between the size of government and the scope of our freedoms. Hence, conservatives have typically been advocates of smaller government. Somewhere along the way, however, they seem to have lost their bearings. Under President Bush and the Republican controlled Congress (most of whom campaigned as "conservatives"), government spending reached new highs and the size of government grew dramatically—so much so that a new phrase was coined, "big government conservative."

Some describe a "big government conservative" as an "oxymoron." Others, less charitably, just use the phrase "moron." Regardless of the descriptor that is used, the result is the same—those who promote the growth of government do so at the expense of freedom.

Here are a few points we do well to keep in mind as we reflect on the size of government and the scope of our freedoms:

First, money is the means by which government sustains itself. Money is to government as food is to people. The size of government is directly proportional to the amount of money available to it. The more money government has, the bigger it gets. If we want to shrink the size of government, we must reduce the amount of money available to it. There is no other way to shrink the bureaucracy. This is the same reality that those of us who are overweight must face when we want to slim down. We simply must cut back on our intake. It is an inconvenient truth. Exercise is helpful, but portion control is essential.


Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.