That’s the title of a stimulating presentation by Lane Kenworthy, author and Professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of Arizona. In his third appearance on Democratic Perspective, Mr. Kenworthy compared the size of US government with that of other countries.
“As a share of GDP our government is not large by comparison,” said Kenworthy. “In 2007, the US government was 37 percent of GDP. Most spend more. The top spenders, such as Denmark and Sweden, dedicate 50 percent of their GDP to government.”
“We tend to think that public opinion drives policy” he continued, “but it’s the other way around. People say they don’t want big government. But when you ask them about specific programs, they don’t want to lose them.”
One of the characteristics of countries with large governments, according to Kenworthy, is that a greater percent think luck has a lot to do with a person’s fortunes. “Over the last century,” he said, “most countries have put in place a variety of programs – some more than others – such as safety nets and programs to increase opportunity.” He defined opportunity as the result of schooling and education.
“The US lags behind in early childhood education (education for children under age 6),” he said. “Other countries think of this as part of overall education. They do this partly through the government.”
Kenworth defines safety nets as insurance for periods when people are unable to provide for themselves. “Some of these programs we have, some not. There’s a very clear pattern across countries. As they get richer, they are more willing to pay for insurance such as Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance, even wage insurance.”
“How can a rich country like ours have such poverty and need?” he asked.
“In the US, most people identify themselves as working class,” Kenworthy continued. “In the US, when conditions change and people lose their jobs, a lot find jobs quickly, but they often don’t get paid as much. We could create a program to make up the difference. This is a problem that has been growing for several decades. Insurance could help make up the difference. We want people to get jobs quickly, but we need something to help them fill the wage gap.”
You can read more of what Professor Kenworthy has to say on his blog, Consider The Evidence.