Opinion | Ted Konnerth: Big government

Ted Konnerth

I’ve always held the belief that all government entities, including the federal government, should be fiscally responsible to budget and spend in accord with revenues. It made a lot of sense to me in the corporate world and it should make as much sense in government. Most local governments, I believe, manage to budget and include the use of reserves for unexpected expenditures. The federal government certainly has much larger issues facing them. With about 1.9 million civilian employees and 1.4 million military employees, plus civil and military retirees, our government is a big government.

While I’d love to see more fiscal discipline, I still understand that most of the expenditures are for the good of the people. The citizens who rail against big government and demand that the government be reduced in size are unlikely to be the same ones that will gladly give up the big-budget items of defense, social security, Medicare and contributions to individual state coffers.

The politicizing of “big government” explains nothing. Yes, the federal government for the 2020 fiscal year spent more than $3 trillion above its revenue, which is a huge number. But spending isn’t necessarily what defines big government, and this is just another instance of using labels to simplify concepts that are far bigger than a two-word bumper sticker.

I have always seen the role of the federal government as a protector of the citizenry: Defend us against outside enemies, defend us against internal enemies and defend us against the darker instincts of capitalism; i.e., cheating, lying, thievery and disinformation.

I also believe that the federal government can help the country sway investments and talent into areas that will bring long-term benefits to the citizenry. Pure capitalism exists in a confined range of investment risk tolerance. As an example, no businesses in the 60s would invest in flying to the moon; the technological challenges were overwhelming and could only have been achieved through investment by the federal government in multiple contributing industries.

Let’s take one current example where the federal government is best suited to stimulate the rapid transition away from carbon-energy sources. The transition into new energy sources will create new industries, new jobs and new technologies that will supplant an industry that has existed for over 100 years burning coal to boil water to drive a turbine. Our entire energy structure has been tied to an inefficient process with huge environmental repercussions. While the industry has been adding renewables to their mix, speeding up that transition requires investments in new technology, and our energy infrastructure has been controlled by investor-owned utilities.

The operative word is “investor-owned.” These utilities have been long-term solid investments, so the urge to rapidly change the paradigm simply doesn’t exist in that financial structure. While new technology for renewables has largely moved offshore, we’ve continued to add to highly-toxic open-air ash pits, and we’ve continued to spew carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and to burn 3 million train carloads of coal every year, according to the Association of American Railroads.

It takes the government to change that paradigm. Many senators and representatives are from coal-mining states, so legislative compromise keeps prolonging doing the “right thing” for the citizenry. Investor-owned utilities have their own lobbyists, and big changes become political, which is toxic. This isn’t big government; this is protecting us from current pollution, groundwater contamination threats from the ash pits and from an ancient energy system that needs the capital to modernize. Investing in the transformation of our energy system is a long-term process with enormous long-term returns. It’s the right thing to do.

When the COVID-19 pandemic finally disappears, I hope we return to managing a federal budget that helps innovation to flourish, keeps our citizenry safe and ensures that all citizens have equal access to safety, health care and opportunities to grow. I believe the vast majority of us believe the same. If so, let’s demand that our big government representatives sit down, act like concerned citizens and solve the problems for the future.

If that’s “big government,” and it can be accomplished within budget, I’m in.

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