Occasionally, as happened on one of my posts, someone will mention the early 20th century and before as a happy era when small government was the rule. These people are confusing low taxes with small government.

Government has played a huge role in the U.S. since it became a nation. It’s just that for much of its lifespan, the U.S. used military force to wipe out Native American nations and take their land. That extremely valuable land was then used to subsidize development. Trappers, loggers, cattle barons, settlers, and miners were all handed resource rights or land, the majority of it taken by force. The railroads developed by being handed not just rights of way but real estate stretching out a mile around the tracks. For that matter, until the Civil War, slavery was a pretty strong subsidy to agriculture and the Northern industry fed by that agriculture — all maintained by government force. And we should not forget the use of civil injunctions, local and state law enforcement, and even the military to ensure that labor disputes were settled in favor of owners over labor.

If you really prefer the state’s use of force to taxes, there are many ways to describe your political position, but “small government advocate” is not one of them.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.