A must-read post over at FiveThirtyEight today, where Tom Schaller explodes a series of lightweight talking-point-bloviations by Jonah Goldberg.
There’s a lot of information contained therein, and the whole thing is worth a read, but here’s the takeaway ‘graph:
Dollar for dollar, America offers the most effective and efficient government on the planet, doing so for about 20 cents on the dollar nationally, 28 cents if you include state and local taxes. If you ask a conservative to name a country that provides as many quality services for less, or more and better services for the same price, they can’t name one. If they do, encourage them to start packing their bags. Sure, they could save a lot of money living in Mexico–if they don’t count all the bribes they’ll have to pay to educate their kids and protect themselves from possible violence. Bottom line is we’re simply not as big as conservatives would have us believe. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek efficiencies, govern more effectively within budget constraints, or try to eliminate fraud and abuse. But American government is pretty clean and fairly lean.
The critical piece, and what makes this post so good: a lot of the claims made in policy debates can be verified or debunked empirically. This is especially true of topics such as government efficiency, even distribution of wealth, etc. When people make claims like “government is too big and efficient,” we can study that claim, find out if it’s true, and respond accordingly.
Schaller’s post uses a lot of data. It shows the cold, hard facts, and the facts are that our government is pretty cost-effective (and does far less to share wealth equitably than any other industrialized nation).
A conservative analyst once described liberals sneeringly as the “reality-based community,” contrasting the left with folks (like Jonah Goldberg) who start with a belief system and try to construct a fact pattern that fits their convenient opinions. It’s easier to rally people with sloganeering and preconceived notions, but it makes better policy to use and analyze the best available information.
Claims should have a basis in reality. We’re the reality-based community. That’s worth taking pride in, and remembering.