Spalding traces the roots of American progressives to German thinkers who believed in the "Administrative State." Here, government is controlled by administrators and "experts," rather than officials elected to represent the people. Spalding also notes that the Founders and the progressives differed in their view of the Constitution. Progressives believed in a "...
Growth of Government
An increasingly common complaint in the United States concerns the rapid growth and expansion of government in American life. For some, government oversight of the food we eat, the education we receive, the cars we drive, and the money we spend is a good and necessary part of life. For others, government oversight has increased far too much, and as a result, is leading the United States down a destructive path.
Historically speaking, an overreaching and oppressive government was the main reason why the colonies rebelled. Generally, the Founders advocated for a limited government, which, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, could be described in the following way:
[W]ith all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities.
But even at that time, after the colonies' experience with the Articles of Confederation, the ratification of the Constitution hinged, in significant part, on agreement over the power of the federal as opposed to the state governments. The Federalists wanted a strong federal government; the Anti-Federalists wanted to reserve most powers to the state governments.
Nevertheless, with only a handful of administrative departments and employees in 1789, early American government was decidedly small and remained so for many years. Alexis de Tocqueville made note of this fact in the mid-19th century when he stated, "Nothing is more striking to an European traveller in the United States than the absence of what we term the Government, or the Administration."
Several decades later, however, the federal government began its first significant expansion with the outbreak of the Civil War. According to Professor Randall Holcombe, "The Civil War brought much new power to the federal government [especially through its assertion of federal power over the states], and laid the groundwork for the growth of interest groups." This in turn caused federal expenditures to increase for a few years. However, even with this expansion, American government was still relatively small, and many of America's leaders sought to keep it that way.
With the dawn of the 20th century and the rise of the Progressive movement, America's ideal of limited government began to change. As many charts show, federal expenditures – a key measure of government growth – rose steadily following the 1913 passage of the 16th Amendment, which officially implemented the income tax.
The Great Depression sparked the most drastic expansion of government up to that point, with the introduction of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. The desperate economic situation put Roosevelt on a quest to create "freedom from want," spawning landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act and the National Recovery Act (NRA). This expansion of the New Deal continued during World War II as wartime necessities brought federal expenditures to approximately 45% of the nation's gross domestic product. Not surprisingly, these high expenditures also raised tax rates excessively, particularly for incomes over $200,000.
Following the war, tax rates plummeted, business boomed, and the size of government diminished for a time, although not to pre-wartime levels. However, in the 1960's, President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society accelerated government growth once again. Seeking to solve social issues such as poverty through Federal action, Johnson implemented major programs such as Medicare, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and Head Start, and established three new federal government bureaucracies.
The years since the Great Society have seen continued growth in the size and scope of government. Indeed, President Johnson's federal department proliferation continued as President Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency, President Carter created the Department of Education, President Reagan created the Department of Veterans Affairs, and President George W. Bush created the Department of Homeland Security.
Apart from federal department creation, government growth is measured in a number of ways, including the expansion in government employment, the growth of the regulatory budget, and the size of the federal register. On all these measures, the trend has been upward.
Perhaps the most noticeable part of a growing government is the money it spends. The spending increases in the U.S. defense, education, health care, transportation, and welfare budgets in recent decades have contributed significantly to the burden of debt the United States is accumulating.
There is debate over which presidential administration has increased spending the most. Due to claims by the Obama administration that he was a minimal spender, various analyses emerged on that front. One such analysis suggests that Reagan and Clinton had relatively low spending levels compared to Obama, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush.
No matter their political affiliation, many politicians and American citizens can agree that government growth is undesirable. Reasons for this include the fact that more spending often leads to increased national debt and higher taxes. More government also increases the regulatory structure, which in turn negatively affects job creation by stifling business and entrepreneurship. An increase in government also impacts liberties; liberties which the Founders believed government should secure, not remove.
Yet, while many condemn government growth with their words, their actions encourage its proliferation. According to government growth proponents, government growth and government spending is a good thing, for it keeps "dollars flowing into the economy [to] create even more jobs." Others cite the environmental, health, technological, and education advances America has made over the years as evidence that "[t]he good life as we know it in the United States literally could not exist without the constant assistance and protection we all get from an extensive network of government laws and programs."
This topic takes a look at the arguments for and against government growth. Additionally, it traces the history of government expansion in America, and examines a variety of key growth indicators such as spending increases, cabinet department additions, and the expanding regulatory structure.
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