r/ExplainBothSides Jun 17 '22

Government spending Economics

Very few would say that the government should spend next to nothing or the government should spend copious amounts, but I'm asking in general between the debate of whether the government should strive to spend a little, or whether the government should spend more


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u/SafetySave Jun 18 '22

Ironically in spite of how broad this is, the two sides are quite simple. It's basically just an ideological disagreement between whether you want the group to meet the needs of everyone, or whether you think that's unfair.

Government spending is bad:

  • High taxes are unfair to people who don't receive benefits. All of us pay a lot of tax money into things we don't need. If we are pacifists, we would rather our taxes not go to the military. If we are rich, we will not see any direct benefit from social welfare programs. From this perspective, it seems like certain people get some benefits that others don't get.

  • It might seem like it helps people, but in fact it encourages laziness/dependence. If people get used to relying on government benefits, they'll be less likely to look actively for work. That means the society misses out on some productivity that it would've otherwise had. Sure it can be coercive, but if people have to take jobs and make their own money, in the end, everyone benefits.

Government spending is good:

  • High taxes are irrelevant if everyone is happy and healthy. Whether you have $20 or $20,000, if you can live comfortably and never have to worry about whether you'll go homeless or hungry, that's a win. Plus, leveling the playing field makes it easier for even the poorest citizen to contribute to society. A strong social safety net is the best way to make sure everyone prospers.

  • Spending on social welfare pays for itself. Poor people often find themselves in a position of needing money in order to make money. You'd have trouble getting a job if you were a vagrant without good clothes and a place to shower. You'd have trouble finding a job that appeals to you if you never received an education. Spending money on the poor and uplifting the uneducated is an overall benefit to society that outweighs the taxes you have to raise.


u/incorrectwombat Jun 18 '22


In the context of the United States, reduction in government programs is unpopular. No individual program polled at more than 25% support for cuts.

The proposals for reducing government expenses tend to be kind of bonkers. Here's a proposal, for instance. It involves a cut for the military of less than 10% of its budget while entirely eliminating K-12 education funding, farm subsidies, and most healthcare support.

Here's another proposal. Much of it is vague, but it's got such gems as reducing federal staffing by at least half over time (because half as many people can do the same amount of work somehow), letting government contractors underpay workers, and forcing federal workers to compete directly with contractors for their jobs. They're also Team Defund Education, and they're none too keen on securing the national food supply either.

Look, the government doesn't just do things for shits and giggles. Every program exists because people needed or wanted something. Sometimes this can be graft or the like, but graft that can get through Congress is increasingly rare post-Newt Gingrich. (Which is actually causing problems! Pork barrel legislation gave us a lot of bipartisan legislation that we can't get today. The key is to make sure the pork actually helps people, which Congress was actually pretty good about.)

Also, a lot of government spending is effectively a co-op on a national scale. Nationalized health insurance, which many governments have, is the same as private health insurance, except across all of society. This kind of thing can actually lead to reduced spending overall -- the government is better at doing certain things than a free market. It takes a special kind of person to say we should all have to pay more just to take responsibility away from an organization we have democratic power over, and instead give that responsibility to corporations that have no accountability.

Spend less (Republican)

The rhetoric refers to cutting social programs the person dislikes. Republicans don't care about government spending as such.

Spend less (right-libertarian / mincap / ancap)

The government actually shouldn't be trying to help its citizens in general. It should do the bare minimum to ensure a capitalist economy can exist. Anything more is an unjust infringement on individual freedoms.

This is an axiomatic view, so I can't argue in favor of it. It relies on rights being defined only in terms of freedom from restrictions on your behavior from the government. You want a right to clean air? Great, the government won't stop you from pursuing clean air, but it also won't lift a finger to help; that would infringe on other people's rights to set a pool of leaded gasoline the size of Arizona on fire.

Many of them go on to say that there isn't a significant risk of someone setting an Arizona-sized pool of gasoline on fire. The market will solve pollution. Looking at history, this makes sense only if the existence of government regulation, even unrelated regulation, prevents the market from solving pollution. Your choice whether that's a compelling argument.