What is Governments’ Role?

When the founders were writing the constitution and establishing the federal government of the USA, they had a number of concerns. A primary concern was to restrict the power of the federal government so as to not infringe on the rights of the individual and the states. One of the primary reasons they had fought for independence from Britian was the government had gone too far in exerting their power, so they did not want to repeat the same mistake. The states were concerned that an oppressive federal government might take away their rights and that issue also had to be resolved before they could agree on how a new government would be formed.

In the end they came up with the following as to what the federal government had the power to do:

Make currency.

Declare wars.

Create military branches.

Sign treaties with foreign countries.

Regulate interstate and international commerce.

Create post offices and stamps.

Make laws to support the constitution.

When one looks at all of the agencies that exist now in the USA federal government how many of them are not included in this list?  I found that according to the Federal Register there are currently 438 agencies and sub-agencies in the Federal Government. President Joe Biden’s Cabinet includes Vice President Kamala Harris and the heads of the 15 executive departments — the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Labor, State, Transportation, Treasury, and Veterans Affairs, and the Attorney General. Additionally, the Cabinet includes the White House Chief of Staff, the US Ambassador to the United Nations, the Director of National Intelligence, and the US Trade Representative, as well as the heads of the Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Management and Budget, Council of Economic Advisers, Office of Science and Technology Policy, and Small Business Administration. Our first president, George Washington, had 4 people in his cabinet.  At the end of 2022 the Federal Workforce was a whopping 2.87 million people and the nation’s largest employer. When Washington was president the entire population of the US was less than 2.87 million.

Resources include the US Office of Personnel Management, US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the US Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Federal Register.

Additionally, 16.7% of the total population work at some level of government. Somehow over the years the government has taken over every aspect of our lives and it continues to expand. We, the taxpayers, pay their salaries.

President Reagan once quipped that there are only three things in life that are certain: death, taxes, and government programs. It seems that the joke is on us. Reagan also said that government is not the solution to our problems, it is the problem. Having said that, there seems that there is no chance of ever reducing the size of government, only the remote hope that somehow the rate of expansion can be reduced.

Currently a little over 79% of the USA workforce is in services. The balance is broken down to 1.66% in agriculture and 19.18% in industry. This seems upside down to me as well.

The USA has a labor participation rate of 60.2% and 16.7% of that total work for the government at some level. This means that the remaining 43.5% of the working population supports the rest. I don’t think this is sustainable. It certainly isn’t if the trajectory remains the same.

If you think this is unique to the USA, think again. Canada currently has 65.6% labor participation rate. 20.4% of that total work for government at some level and government is the largest employer in Canada. Government in Canada represents a whopping 64% of the country’s GDP. From this one could conclude that Canada is on the same trajectory, or worse, as the USA. If this trend continues who will be left to pay the others who are working for the government? 

Mexico is currently spending only 11.48% of their GDP for government and it is projected to actually decrease in the following few years. A breakdown of Mexico’s work force is as follows: 4.15 percent Agriculture, 32.13 percent Industry, and 58.77 percent Services. One might say that the Mexican government provides fewer services to their people, which is true, but the citizens are not paying for services they do not want or need either. Somewhere there is a balance between an intrusive costly government and one that sticks to the basics.

Of course, there are other factors to consider but overall, it looks like what the founders feared could happen has happened. This started to happen from the very founding of our governments. It has happened slowly but deliberately. The old Chinese proverb – death by a thousand cuts – seems to apply.

One of the tactics used to perpetuate this trend in the USA is that our government takes us to the brink of a preverbal fiscal cliff during every budget cycle and both political parties are poised to blame the other for creating the crisis. The press is busy selling the public that if some agreement is not reached by some arbitrary date vital public services will have to stop, or the military will not be paid, or retired folks will not receive their social security benefits, or medical services will have to stop, etc. All of this drama comes to a head when, at the eleventh hour, congress once again funds further expansion of the government by spending money they do not have in the process and the public sighs in relief in unison that the crisis has been averted until the next budget cycle when this drama repeats itself once again. In that way we are all complacent in promoting the growth of an already bloated government by borrowing money and growing the national debt.

To balance the federal budget, government revenue must meet or exceed government spending. That’s happened only twice in the past half-century: President Lyndon Johnson’s administration did it in 1969, and President Bill Clinton’s administration from 1998 to 2001. As of this writing it has been 23 years since the USA has had a balanced budget.

Another tactic is for the government to identify or create a crisis and then position itself as the only viable solution.  Many times, this leads to the creation of yet another government agency. Many of them sound necessary and good when created but they soon lose their focus. They expand their mission and grow exponentially. The reason they were formed in the first place is lost in the process. There is no turning back, they just grow like a cancer with no cure. 

I have learned that the scariest phrase to hear is “I am from the government, and I am here to help you.”  As for me, just pass by me and I will figure out how to help myself.


For more information about Lake Chapala visit: www.chapala.com


Tim Eyermann
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