In standard “small government conservative” discourse, one of the more popular talking points concerns the alleged mechanism behind the rise of big government: The poor and working class majority vote themselves largess out of the public treasury, taxing all the thrifty and productive “John Galts” out there, until government spends and borrows itself into bankruptcy.
There’s only one problem with this little scenario: The actual hogs at the trough mostly look like Mr. Moneypenny on the Monopoly gameboard.
Take a look at the biggest causes, on the spending side, of the deficit increase since 2001:
Two unfunded wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an increase in the so-called “Defense” budget (when’s the last time America actually fought a war to defend her own territory, as opposed to attacking some little country on the other side of the world?).
The unfunded Medicare prescription drug benefit, which amounts to a transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars a year to Big Pharma for drugs at a patent markup of up to 2000%.
The vast expansion of the security-industrial complex since 9-11 — Homeland Security, the TSA, and tens of billions a year in increased intelligence spending — with Uncle Sam throwing out untold thousands of contracts to security and surveillance technology firms, all the while calling “Soooie! Here, piggy!”
And of course there’s the ongoing growth of the prison-industrial complex under the War on Drugs, with prison guard unions and private prison corporation lobbyists agitating for ever more draconian drug laws.
And if you think about it, it’s minorities, the poor, and the less educated who are least likely to vote. Who do you really think is more likely the primary actor behind the food stamp program — the agribusiness interests in Bob Dole’s old constituency, or that powerful voting bloc of single mothers on welfare?
Take a look at the map of net taxpaying states and net revenue consuming states: The overwhelming flow of money is from taxpayers in Blue States to recipients in Red States. 27 of 32 states that get more than they give vote Republican, and 14 of 18 that give more than they get vote Democratic.
This really shouldn’t be much of a surprise. The overwhelming majority of net tax recipients are in the South, Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Alaska (you know, those ruggedly independent areas that want government to get off their back).
Military bases are disproportionately located in the South. At one time the tech industry in Newt Gingrich’s old district was the top recipient of DoD R&D money. And the economies of states in the Plains and Rockies (not to mention Sarah “Thanks, But No Thanks” Palin’s Alaska) are heavily skewed toward agriculture and extractive industries.
The primary recipients of farm subsidies are large-scale cereal grain operations in Red States of the Midwest and Upper Plains. And the so-called “Sagebrush Rebellion” (you may have heard of it) is mainly a movement of the oil, mining, ranching and logging industries to get preferential access to government land, along with taxpayer subsidies of much of their operating expenses.
Even the welfare state, on which the working poor and underclass of the Red States are disproportionately dependent, is a subsidy to the low-wage employers in all those “right to work” banana republics of the South.
So when the Norquists, Armeys and DeLays say they’re against “big government,” know them for the liars they are. They’re not against big government as such. Big government that helps poor people, of course, is socialism — flaming red ruin on wheels. But big government that helps the Good ol’ Boys in the country club isn’t big government at all. It’s just “free enterprise.”
Where is John Galt? That’s him over there with his face in the trough.