Book Review: The False Promise Of Big Government

The False Promise Of Big Government:  How Washington Helps The Rich And Hurts The Poor, by Patrick M. Garry

Frequently, arguments about big government tend to devolve into a debate in which there is a false dilemma present as well as a tendency for both parties involved, pro-big government and anti-big government, to talk past each other.  For example, the false dilemma usually presented is that the absence of big government leads to the abuse of the common person by cruel and exploitative big business and that only big government can stand against this.  Meanwhile, those who oppose big government are usually left discussing the inefficiencies and corruption involved with big government and its failures to do anything meaningful about the problems it tackles, which is viewed by some as irrelevant because the critique is said to lack heart as to the genuine concerns that are exploited by big government supporters.  This book’s aim is to look at the false promise of big government without conceding anything about the opponents of big government lacking in compassion about the struggles of the ordinary person.  Instead, the book makes a strong populist attack on big government that attacks it at its most vulnerable side, the wide gulf between its utopian promises and inevitable pathetic performance.

This book is a short one at just over 100 pages and it is divided into six chapters.  The book begins with an introduction that exposes the myth of big government, namely the myth that it offers help to the poor and to outsiders while instead consistently rewarding large businesses, the immensely wealthy, and preserving cronies and insiders while making it harder for outsiders to prosper.   The author then demonstrates how this is done by showing first how big government caters to the interests of big power (1) through lobbyist efforts, among other means.  After this there is a discussion of the way that big government breeds cronyism (2) and how it is a tool of the elite to protect their interests and their control over certain segments of the economy (3).  The author discusses how big government becomes its own end (4) and is simply not able to shrink itself after having solved a problem to a high enough degree.  The author then turns to a discussion of how big government backfires (5) and tends to make problems worse rather than better, which typically is used as a justification for even more big government to reinforce failure, and how big government crowds out civil society by creating a false dilemma about who deals with problems (6).  The book then closes with a discussion about changing the debate about the supposedly compassionate nature of big government.

This book provides useful work in seeking to counteract the lure of Big Government in its exposure of the false promise that big government does what it does because it cares about the common folk.  It should be noted that a consistent populist position would require hostility not only to big government but to big business and to large centers of power in general that can be found within society, and the author manages to do this effectively in a way that may surprise some readers.  To be sure, it is easy for people to be cynical about efforts to take big government because they think that the populism is not genuine in nature, but this author definitely appears to have a strong populist aim and that is all the more surprising for being published by an organization that specializes in educational works.  By and large intellectuals and populism are not things that are assumed to work together well, and a collaboration between those two tendencies is something that strikes me as very interesting because of my own interest in the intersection between those two modes of thinking.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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