Framing Big Government: Who Governs and to What End?

Extreme conservatives label many government efforts they don’t like as big government. This frames the issue as the size of government–with smaller seeming more desirable, of course.

Big Brother is watching you.
According to the Principle of Conservation of Government, corporations could be the tyrant to be feared.

To me, the phrase brings to mind the all-knowing, all-powerful Big Brother from George Orwell’s novel 1984.

Instead of defending “big government,” progressives should reframe the debate as about who governs and to what end, not size. According to George Lakoff,

There is a Principle of Conservation of Government: If conservatives succeed in cutting government by the people for the public good, our lives will still be governed, but now by corporations. We will have government by corporations for corporate profit…. It will be a cruel government, a government of foreclosures, outsourcing, union busting, outrageous payments for every little thing, and pension eliminations.

Smaller Governement = Corporate GovernmentSo when extreme conservatives say they want smaller government, progressives could reply that their opponents are advocating government by corporations. Instead, we want the people to govern the nation, including corporations. A bumper-sticker version could read, “Smaller government = corporate government.”

Many of the laws government regulations that extreme conservatives want to abolish are intended to protect us from abuse by corporations. Examples include the Clear Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Pure Food and Drug Act, Dodd-Frank, the Volcker Rule, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the minimum wage, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and on and on. If they succeed, the corporations would make the rules for their own benefit, not ours.

That’s unacceptable, and We the People should say so.

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