fresh voices from the front lines of change







It turns out President Obama was more right than he knew when, back in April, he spoke of the GOP’s vision of a “shrunken America.” There’s just one more thing about which, in his speech last night, John Boehner was more wrong than he knew or probably cared to know.

Quoth Speaker Boehner: “You know, Ive always believed, the bigger government, the smaller the people.”

Not that it’s going to matter much to Boehner or a GOP that’s determined not to let reason or reality stop it from wrecking the economy, but as Matt Yglesias and Jonathan Cohn point out, bigger government equals taller people — thanks to higher levels of social services and lower levels of inequality.

Within the course of the 20th century the American population went through a virtual metamorphosis from being the tallest in the world, to being among the most overweight. The American height advantage over Western and Northern Europeans was between 3 and 9cm in mid-19th century, and Americans tended to be underweight. However, today, the exact opposite is the case as the Dutch, Swedes, and Norwegians are the tallest, and the Danes, British and Germanseven the East-Germansare also taller, towering over the Americans by as much as 37cm. Americans also have shorter lives. The hypothesis is worth considering that this adverse development is related to the greater social inequality, an inferior health care system, and fewer social safety nets in the United States than in Western and Northern Europe, in spite of higher per capita income. The Western and Northern European welfare states, with cradle to grave health and unemployment insurance currently seems to provide a more propitious environment for the biological standard of living than its US counterpart.

(It’s worth noting that, according to the World Health Organization and the Commonwealth Fund, the health care systems in the same countries beat ours by miles in “quality, efficiency, access to care, equity and the ability to lead long, healthy, productive lives.”)

And, as Cohn points out, Boehner came up short in more ways than one.

I realize that Boehner was speaking metaphorically. But the metaphor is wrong, too. Among developed nations, plenty have thrived economically with much bigger governments than we have. Instead of crippling growth in those countries, high taxes may have enabled it byfinancing a welfare state that makes citizens better tolerate the volatility of the global economy.

But back to the more literal interpretation for a moment: If the size of a nation’s government has any effect on the size of its people, it may be that bigger really is better…

Only with Boehner’s math could Medicaid cuts that leave 1.7 million children uninsured and slashing food aid to women and children result in more “growth” — literally speaking — of the American people.

And only under Boehner’s math can slashing revenue increasing unemployment with job killing cuts actually grow the economy.

Not that anyone’s actually talking about that kind of growth.

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