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Americans are supposed to dislike big government. It's why they objected to a health care reform bill that seemed to take the country more towards a European style of governing, are highly suspicious of taxes, and wrangle over the size of the federal and state budgets so fiercely.

The problem, argues Anne Applebaum Tuesday in The Washington Post, is that, contrary to popular belief, Americans don't actually want small government. In fact, they want more from their government than they can admit:

They don't simply want the government to keep the peace and create a level playing field. They want the government to ensure that every accident and every piece of bad luck is prevented, or that they are fully compensated in the event something goes wrong. And if the price of their house drops, they will hold the government responsible for that, too.

In fact, Applebaum continues, Americans want more from their government than most other peoples want from governments. Personal saving for retirement is assumed in many states, while, as far as health care goes, "most Europeans are reconciled to the idea that not everybody, at any age and in any condition, is entitled to the most expensive medical technology." It's time for Americans to ditch the "hypocrisy" that allows them to ridicule tax-happy Europeans while simultaneously pining for a government larger than even European states deliver:


A secretary of state or defense traveling with dozens of cars and armed security guards would seem absurd in many countries, as would the notion that the government provides a tax break if you buy a house or that schools should close if there is ice on the roads. Yet we not only demand ludicrous levels of personal and political safety, we also rant and rave against the vast bureaucracies we have created--democratically, constitutionally, openly--to deliver it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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