Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Where Does Big Government Come From?
I've been puzzling over this for a while now, and while I can't yet prove it, I think I have figured out part of the reason that government has grown to the extent it has, and how we let it happen. I'm just scratching thoughts down here so I don't lose them, but I'd love to have a ton of comments on this one, to see whether I'm totally off base.
We talk about how we've lost the "community" aspect to our lives - how we don't know our neighbors and so on. But why is that? Could it be due to any of the following?
The double-income family phenomenon is likely making more families independent than ever before. Rather than the historical multi-generational living arrangements, families are more likely now to be found living in completely separate units from other family members, and even in completely separate states.
The rise in the number of jobs a typical person has in a lifetime reflects more mobility in terms of moving to a new job. It used to be that a person was more likely to do one thing, or work for one company, over his lifetime. Whether a farmer or a factory worker, one typically signed on for the duration. Studies place the number of jobs an average person works in a lifetime at something like 10 or 11 now. Is that because companies feel more free to hire and fire? Is it because a two-income family depends less on both people working?
Housing value bubbles could have spurred more families to "move up" in house. As rising prices allowed homeowners to realize wealth by selling a large asset, the proceeds could then be used as a down payment on a larger home. This means people could have moved out of established neighborhoods into newer, less settled subdivisions.
More education raised a child's potential standard of living far above his parents. The G.I. Bill, Pell Grants and the student loan programs helped vast numbers of people attend colleges and universities, some of whom were the first in their families to attend college. But that's not all - compulsory K-12 education (or as much of it as a district could force a child to attend) changed education entirely. Children of farmers would not have been expected in prior generations to complete schooling past 8th grade, for example. Now the national expectation is that all children will attend school through high school, and there are many initiatives to push those expectations upwards, stressing a college education for all students. At any rate, more opportunity for education among poorer families meant that their children could easily outstrip their earning power, particularly if a young couple were both college-educated and worked. No need to stay and live in the old neighborhood, then; just go back occasionally to visit the folks.
The focus on education outstripped the focus on a work ethic. With more students continuing their education beyond a bachelor's degree and staying in school longer, the need to work (unless to make up gaps in the student loans or scholarships, or for drinking money) has been all but done away with. This along with easy credit could be responsible for people making bad money decisions and having difficulty tying the value of "stuff" to the hours they work.
A population with fewer ties to place feels less responsible for their places. People who move around a lot develop fewer ties to the places they live, and thus less civic engagement and less community involvement. Whereas small town living meant the neighbors knew all your business, it also meant they could more easily identify each others' needs. A disconnected and transitory populace is far less likely to see a problem and say "I need to do something about that" and far more likely to say "SOMEBODY needs to do something about that" and then delegate the problem to a government entity.
So that's what I came up with - the less of a community we find where we are, the more likely we are to see a big government solution for everything. Make sense? What am I leaving out? Thoughts?