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squirbel's avatar

Are "Big Government" and "Individual Freedom" opposed to each other?

Asked by squirbel (3996 points ) October 18th, 2008

Or can they coexist?

Talk to scholars at the Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation or to movement organizers like Grover Norquist, and they’ll walk you through the strategy. Big government and individual freedom, they’ll explain, are opposed to each other; more of one means less of the other. The three big areas of non-defense-related government spending are retirement (mainly Social Security), health care (mainly Medicare and Medicaid), and education (mainly K-12 public schools). For political reasons, it is practically impossible to cut spending in these areas. But it is possible to dismantle the government bureaucracies that administer them in a way that enhances personal freedom and makes possible big cuts down the road: privatize the benefits.

The father of this line of thinking is Milton Friedman. In the 1950s and 1960s, the conservative economist dreamed up the notions of education vouchers and private accounts for Social Security. Republican operatives and think tankers seized on Friedman’s ideas in the 1970s, expanded them into areas like health care, and fleshed out their philosophic and political logic. Vesting individuals with more choice, control, and ownership of their government benefits, they argued, would not only enhance virtues like personal responsibility, but over time, it would also result in the shift of hundreds of billions of tax dollars from the custodial care of government to the corporations that would help manage people’s private accounts. Best of all, from the conservative point of view, it would transform the electorate’s political identity. Instead of government-dependent supporters of the Democratic Party, voters would become self-reliant followers of the GOP.

an excerpt from – Bush’s Ownership Society of Washington Monthly

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16 Answers

jvgr's avatar

I don’t think the issue is really one of big government vs individual freedom as much as it is socialism vs capitalism. The conservative party is against governement as a socio/economic support system; that individuals should be responsible for their own lives. This would shrink government hence the original argument.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

I believe so. As long as corporations are for-profit, permanent entities, alot of money and resources can be put into expanding the government for corporate gain. When this country was founded, corporations were given temporary charters and they had to benefit the public. Ex. When a railroad needed to be built, a corporate charter was created and abolished when the project was finished.

Now, corporations must put profit and shareholders above all. That means it is in the corporations best interest to control government officials and regulations. Since corporations are in it to make money, the best way they can make money, is by controlling all sides of government. It is in a health insurance or pharmaceutical company’s best interest to get involved in all sides of government. Ex. Getting things like Aspartame approved. Now more people will have ADD and ADHD and need medicine and doctors visits for it.

As long as corporations are involved, big government will be inevitable and people will have less freedom of choice and less freedom overall, because we will constantly remain slaves to corporations and government, to keep government and corporations powerful. People are so reliant on government to make things happen, when the people that run the machines and build the things we need are the ones that make it happen.

SquirrelEStuff's avatar

Did you guys ever see the movie Network from 1976, directed by Sidney Lumet, starring Faye Dunnaway, William Holden, and Peter Finch?

“Im mad as hell and Im not gonna take it anymore!” Howard Beale
“There is no Democracy. There are only corporations.”

Harp's avatar

When I lived and worked in France (arguably a prime example of government at its biggest) and was covered by the national health care plan, I had the choice of virtually any doctor I wanted, including going directly to specialists. There was next to no wait time for appointments or procedures; never any question of being excluded for prior conditions.

Under our “small government” here, I can only choose among doctors “in network”, and must get prior approval before seeking specialist care. I wait weeks for appointments. If I were to lose my job, I’d be forced to pay outrageous amounts for lousy COBRA coverage or risk being denied some coverage by my next insurer. And for this crappy setup, I get to pay twice as much as I paid for health care in France.

How does this make me freer? Where is the “free market” that’s supposed to be stepping in here and offering better options to all us disgruntled consumers?

We can’t begin to talk about “freedom” until we establish a baseline of decent living and health standards for all members of society.

augustlan's avatar

@Harp: I wish I could “GA” you more than once!

jessturtle23's avatar

I think it will be like that until Americans realize that all of the great things in this world have come from individuals and not government. Government just slows down progress. I am not a libertarian I just don’t like bureaucrats. I think most people don’t like them but some just don’t know that they don’t. Does that make sense?

jvgr's avatar

Harp: “How does this make me freer?” You don’t quite grasp the conservative concept of free choice: You are free to make the choice between having anything you want (as long as you have the $$ to pay; if you don’t have the money you are free to get a better job or do without).

I came to Canada in 1977. Never seen a bureaucrat involved in my medical care. Doctor’s of choice. Govt’t negotiated max price on drugs.

lapilofu's avatar

My politics professor last semester made a distinction to me that I found to be a useful way of thinking about things. Instead of talking about freedoms, we talked about “civil rights” and “civil liberties.” Civil rights are those freedoms that you have which are protected by the government—the government prevents other people from taking those things away from you. Civil liberties are the freedoms that exist because the government has not legislated them.

Advocates of civil rights suggest stronger government. Advocates of civil liberties suggest weaker government. This doesn’t clear up which is better or provides more, but it at least makes it clear that government is neither synonymous nor antonymous with freedom.

aidje's avatar

@lapilofu
I’m a fan of both. So, do I like big government or small government? Or am I bipolar?

lapilofu's avatar

I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive. Some things are meant to be civil right and some thing should be civil liberties. It depends on the thing.

aidje's avatar

Let me rephrase. You said: “Advocates of civil rights suggest stronger government. Advocates of civil liberties suggest weaker government.” (I’m assuming that your “stronger” and “weaker” are synonymous with my “bigger” and “smaller”.) So what if someone is an advocate of both civil rights and civil liberties?

lapilofu's avatar

Right. And what I’m trying to say is that most people are. They’re not mutually exclusive. The difference lies in the amount that one is in favor of each and the specific issues.

Zuma's avatar

Notice that the military, police, prisons, drug enforcement, homeland security, domestic surveillance and propaganda functions are left out of this concept of “big government.” Indeed, it is only the social safety net, which empowers and protects people that is drawn into opposition with “Individual Freedom.” It’s an intellectually dishonest distinction from the outset.

grayreason's avatar

To all the advocates of a government in favor of expanding its corruptive influence into every nook and cranny of your lives in the disguise of being for the good of the common man your so far wrong that i have words that can quantify the extremity of your error.

Never in history has a government willingly given up any power invested in its self.

The issue with bigger government is the fact that it doesn’t stop getting bigger. Granted it may slow its growth at times due to a variety of factors but the point remains that it won’t get smaller willingly. Take for example the USA. In the beginning of this country it had a government that was the closet thing to anarchy that could feasible. In order to insure peace they gave individuals a set of basic rights as a limiting agent on the growth of government and to give the masses something to cherish and value. As the government has aged it has been invested with more and more powers. With each expansion the threat of the masses has grown less and less, because certain programs passivised the people with promises of a security net and others forcibly silenced their dissent. How can a government that has now grown so large be afraid of the masses when all that’s needed to appease them is a new social program?

Some may argue that this expansion of government has been for the good of the nation, but i cant imagine how sacrificing the liberties and freedoms of my own self and my future children can be a trade for temporary appeasement.

Perhaps the most terrifying thing of an expanding with fewer liberities is the creation of a nanny state. We have already seen this happen with social security, currently many of the elderly are absolutely reliant on the program and will immediately side with the candidate that promises them the biggest expansion of social security or medical benefits. A system of free government cannot exist if it is based on this principle. It ultimately leads to a authoritarian government.

I ask you are the benefits you recieve worth sacrificing the liberities and freedoms of your children and their children?

I hope is no otherwise were gearing for another era of authoritarian government

dabbler's avatar

Big government is necessary to facilitate some kinds of freedom.

Freedom from discrimination and harassment as enforceable policies need a pervasive and persuasive party to make it happen. Corporations don’t care much one way or another.

Freedom from being poisoned by an industrial process upwind or upstream from you is another one that takes an entity bigger than the poisoner to make it work. The markets won’t do that sort of thing.

Freedom from becoming destitute when a major illness strikes someone in your family is something the markets don’t seem to want to cough up.

CaptainHarley's avatar

Sheer bigness carries with it an increase in power. Big government and individual freedom are almost inverse functions of each other. Government will always attempt to arrogate power unto itself, usually at the expense of individual freedom. Many in government think that we are too stupid to know what’s best for us, so we have to be controlled. True freedom includes the freedom to fail. How people can be against “big pharma” and “big oil” and the other corporate “bigs” and yet condone, even advocate, big goverment is beyond me. I think it stems from two motivations: to get something for nothing via goverment, and to participate in the increase in power and corruption that a big government provides a few.

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