Published Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 2:38 pm
Jonah Goldberg: Government growth out of control

The government thinks you’re stupid, or at least ignorant.

This isn’t just an indictment of the current government or an indictment of government itself. It’s simply a statement of fact.

At its core, the government exists to do certain things that people aren’t equipped to do on their own. The list of those things has gotten longer and longer over the years.

In 1776, the federal government’s portfolio could have easily fit in a file folder: maintain an army and a navy, a few federal courts, the post office, the patent office and maybe a dozen or two other pretty obvious things.

Now, the file folder of things the federal government does is much bigger. To paraphrase Dr. Egon Spengler from “Ghostbusters,” let’s imagine that the federal government in 1776 was the size of a Twinkie. Today that Twinkie would be 35 feet long, weighing approximately 600 pounds.

Or, if that illustration doesn’t work for you, consider this: The number of civilians (i.e., not counting the military) who work for the executive branch alone is today nearly equal to the entire population of the United States in 1776. The Federal Register, the federal government’s fun-filled journal of new rules, regulations and the like, was about 2,600 pages in 1936 (a year after it was created). Today it’s over 80,000 pages.

And that’s just at the federal level. Each state government is a pretty giant-sized Twinkie, too. In Massachusetts, all kids in daycare are required by law to brush their teeth after lunch. In Texas — Texas! — if you don’t have an interior design license, you can’t call yourself an interior designer, lest some unsuspecting consumer trust your opinion on throw pillow placement without the backing of the state.

Almost everywhere, Americans need a license to open a business — sometimes even a lemonade stand — but in Milwaukee, you even need a license to go out of business.

The justifications for all of these laws and all of these workers — the good, the bad and the ugly — have one thing in common: the assumption that the rest of us couldn’t get by without them, whether we like it or not.

This past week, the feds took the first steps to ban trans fats. Why? Because trans fats are bad for you and you can’t be trusted to avoid them on your own. I bring this up not because it is such an outrageous illustration of my point but to demonstrate how typical it is. This is what the government does, day in, day out.

That’s what makes the reaction to Obamacare so interesting. Several times now, the president has endeavored to explain that it’s not that big a deal millions of Americans are losing their health insurance plans against their will. The people who had plans they liked didn’t understand that the plans they liked were no good — they were the actuarial equivalent of trans fats, don’t you know? The fact that the people who held them liked them, thought they were good and wanted to keep them doesn’t count for much, because the government knows best.

The president can’t say it as plainly as he would like, because to do so would be to admit not only that he lied to the American people but also that he thinks the complainers are ignorant about their own needs and interests.

The president’s more intellectually honest defenders have said exactly that. “Vast swathes of policy are based on the correct presumption that people don’t know what’s best for them. Nothing new,” tweeted Josh Barro, politics editor for Business Insider.

Barro’s fairly liberal, but I’d be dishonest if I said that he was wrong from a conservative perspective. The difference, however, is that conservatives tend to see government as a necessary evil, and therefore see policymaking with some humility. Liberals tend to see government as a necessary good and see ordering people to do things “for their own good” as a source of pride, even hubris.

From a conservative perspective, telling people how to run their lives when not absolutely necessary is an abuse of power. For liberals, telling people how to run their lives is one of the really fun perks of working for the government.

You can see the frustration on the president’s face. It’s almost like the ingrates who refuse to understand that his were necessary lies for their own good are spoiling all his fun.

Contact the writer: goldbergcolumn@gmail.com

Oil industry ad campaign mocks Nebraska cowboys who protested Keystone XL pipeline
In Omaha, bus tour calls for hourly minimum wage over $10
Fremont police searching for missing 56-year-old man
Prosecutor: Baby might be alive if day care employer had spoken up
NRA seeks universal gun law at national meeting
Beau McCoy calls Pete Ricketts a 'convenient conservative' for immigration stance
Omaha senator seeks minimum wage ballot measure
Agreement reached to end dog racing at Bluffs Run at end of 2015
Police probe bank robbery
Man accused of trying to open flying plane's door pleads not guilty
Ben Sasse shifts tactics, calls ad by Shane Osborn 'hypocritical'
Forecast on the upswing after Thursday's rain
EB Harney Street lane closed
Ex-UNMC student loses appeal; claimed program didn't make accommodations for his depression
Grace: Your older self has a request — use sunscreen
At NU's helm, J.B. Milliken built the university by building relationships with state leaders
City's Personnel Board is behind ‘ban-the-box’ proposal
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
Richard Paul Dreier, 90, was wounded in attack during WWII
Police issue arrest warrant in teen's shooting death
Kelly: Huskers' glory days of '80s live on — on the small screen and on stage
New public employee pay data: Douglas, Lancaster, Sarpy Counties, plus utilities
Database: How much did Medicare pay your doctor?
Construction to start in May on West Broadway apartment/retail structure
3 Nebraska Board of Education candidates call for high standards
< >
COLUMNISTS »
Breaking Brad: 117-mph riding lawnmowers and 12-scoop banana splits
The Chicago White Sox are selling a 12-scoop banana split inside a full-size batting helmet for $17. You know what you'd call someone in Chicago who'd eat this? "Health nut."
Breaking Brad: Walmart beats Russia, stakes a claim on the moon
Russia is claiming it owns a section of the moon. If you follow the news, you know this probably doesn't end well.
Kelly: Started at a dining room table, Home Instead thriving at 20 with $1B in annual revenue
The idea that Paul Hogan had studied and then hatched at his mother's table was that older people, rather than moving in with relatives or to an assisted-living center, would much prefer to stay home instead.
Kelly: Huskers' glory days of '80s live on — on the small screen and on stage
The 1984 NFL draft was unusual for the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and these days it's remembered in the name of a rock band, the 1984 Draft. Tonight, the band is featured on the NFL Network.
Breaking Brad: Nebraska GOP candidates unified against naked squirrels
Some of these Nebraska campaigns are tilting pretty far right. At a recent forum, there was a consensus that we need to ban public dancing and clothe naked squirrels in public parks.
Deadline Deal thumbnail
7M Grill
Half Off Delicious Comfort Fusion Food & Drinks!
Buy Now
PHOTO GALLERIES »
< >
SPOTLIGHT »
Omaha World-Herald Contests
Enter for a chance to win great prizes.
OWH Store: Buy photos, books and articles
Buy photos, books and articles
Travel Snaps Photo
Going on Vacation? Take the Omaha World-Herald with you and you could the next Travel Snaps winner.
Click here to donate to Goodfellows
The 2011 Goodfellows fund drive provided holiday meals to nearly 5,000 families and their children, and raised more than $500,000 to help families in crisis year round.
WORLD-HERALD ALERTS »
Want to get World-Herald stories sent directly to your home or work computer? Sign up for Omaha.com's News Alerts and you will receive e-mails with the day's top stories.
Can't find what you need? Click here for site map »