A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Rob and Lauren Hudson: Letter of Common Ground about why government grows, Part II

Letters for families based on the book “It Can Be Done” @studentsleadusa

Today we write to provide more reasons why government grows, to report on how large the federal government has become, and to ask some key questions about our country’s future.

In recent decades, Americans have changed their approach to government. We often turn to government, rather than or in addition to private charity, to help ourselves and others.

Why does government grow?

It is hard to say “no” to something which sounds free and will help some people, including helping some people get back on their feet.

Americans have grown government at times for reasons of compassion and at times for selfish reasons. Although it’s not really an act of generosity to take and redistribute someone else’s money, some people see redistribution as being compassionate. Everybody wants everybody to do well.

The nature of government also favors its own growth. Once government creates a new program, it rarely goes away. Members of Congress don’t want to take away someone’s programs and they usually don’t want to lose votes. The programs, all of which sound appealing, build up over time, causing government to grow larger and larger.

Governments even use tax dollars to provide payments for some companies, preferring some businesses over other businesses. Businesses and seemingly everyone began, often behind closed doors, petitioning the government for more payments and favors. Without debt limits and spending boundaries, government became like a big ATM.

Frost Brown Todd LLC Member Rob Hudson is a Past Chair of the Northern Kentucky Chamber and a business lawyer. 2018 Independent Author of the Year Lauren Hudson is a Singletary Scholar at the University of Kentucky. Their next letter will explore common ground about lower taxes and spending.

Larger government advocates have been patient, successfully growing government. The United States Revenue Act of 1913 started out with a federal income tax rate of only 1%, plus an additional five percentage points for people making more than ten million dollars in today’s money. Today, state income taxes alone now average in the range of 6%. As recently as 2017, the top federal tax rate was nearly 40%, meaning that many citizens paid in the range of 45% in state and federal income taxes of every additional dollar earned over $418,000.

Regardless of where you stand in the taxes and government payments debate, our governments have grown to the point where they spend staggering amounts of money. In 2018, the federal government spent over four trillion dollars, more than 20% of our economy. If you add state and local government spending to the government spending mix, total government spending exceeds more than 30% of our economy.

To put all this spending in perspective, a trillion is a thousand billion. The federal government alone spends an average of more than $10,000 per person each year, and it has spent more than twenty trillion of our tax dollars fighting poverty. Clearly, our government programs and spending have become a big part of American life.

All Americans can begin with the common ground that our governments have already grown very large. But in recent years, Americans have had no stomach for shrinking the federal government.

Our common ground should also include an agreement on key questions that should be asked and answered. How much larger should government grow? How much more should it do? And we need to answer the most important question of all. How will we pay for it?

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