Big government

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For the website Big Government, see

Big government is a term generally used by conservatives and libertarians to describe a government or public sector that they consider to be excessively large, corrupt and inefficient, or inappropriately involved in certain areas of public policy or the private sector. The term may also be used specifically in relation to government policies that attempt to regulate matters considered to be private or personal, such as private sexual behavior or individual food choices.[1] The term has also been used to define a dominant federal government that seeks to control the authority of local institutions - an example being the overriding of state authority in favor of federal legislation.[2]


Big government is primarily defined by its size, measured by the number of employees or budget, either in absolute terms or relative to the overall national economy. The size of government can also be reckoned by the number of "spheres of involvement"[clarification needed]. The concept can also be defined by the perceived role of government in society, the quality of services (that is, the impact of government effort), and the degree of democracy and societal representation.[3][4]

Critical usage

The term can be applied to numerous bureaucratic criticisms:

  • Government programs, where it is argued that policy goals could be accomplished with smaller, more nimble organizations
  • Attempts to federalize programs traditionally implemented at the state level
  • Implementing programs that seek to accomplish functions normally associated with the private sector or private organizations (such as non-profit groups or religious organizations)
  • Expensive programs that are likely to increase costs in the long term, that are subject to cost overruns or poor cost analyses, and that are resistant to reform efforts, both internally and externally
  • Large bureaucracies lacking in accountability
  • Limited or no checks and balances on power within an organization
  • Inadequate or inconsistent metrics to verify efficacy
  • Limited genuine benefits actually conferred to citizens
  • Cost ineffective (i.e. benefits are outweighed by high costs) programs funded primarily by bond packages

Commentators who use the term are often concerned about government delivery of public goods, and government involvement in the formulation and implementation of laws and policies concerning civil rights, social justice, and social welfare.

Other commentators combine criticism of big government with criticism of "big business", "big labor", "big oil", "big tobacco" and "big pharma".

See also


  1. Grynbaum, Michael (31 May 2012). "New York Plans to Ban Sale of Big Sizes of Sugary Drinks". New York Times. Retrieved 2 June 2012. 
  2. Patrick Garry (14 June 2011). "The meaning of big government". Renew America. Retrieved 26 April 2012. 
  3. Micheletti, M. (2000), End of Big Government: Is It Happening in the Nordic Countries?. Governance, 13: 265–278. doi: 10.1111/0952-1895.00134
  4. Peter Lindhert (2004). "Does Big Government Hurt Economic Growth" (PDF). St. Johns University. Retrieved 26 April 2012.