MHC Prof's Web Site: Government Is Good!

Posted: September 17, 2007

For many Americans "good" would be about the last word they would use to describe government.

According to recent polls noted on a new Web site, Government Is Good (see link below), many Americans feel that the government is inherently wasteful and incompetent, and that corruption is a major problem. Only 29 percent trust the government to do what is right "always" or "most of the time." And nearly half see the government as a threat to their rights and freedoms.

Yet when natural disasters strike, such as Hurricane Katrina, or when we face issues such as global warming and potential pandemics, we are painfully reminded of why government exists--and even why having a robust, functioning government is actually in our best interest.

The Web site, created by Mount Holyoke College political scientist Douglas J. Amy, makes the case for this much-maligned institution. He argues that our views of government have been distorted by a highly effective public relations campaign waged by conservatives who seek to disparage and drastically reduce our government.

"When was the last time you heard someone offering a positive vision of government--government as a good thing?" Amy asks. "I want to show that conservatives are dead wrong about government. It is not a scourge on society; it is a valuable and positive force in the life of every American. If we want an America that is healthy, secure, well-educated, unpolluted, compassionate, prosperous, and just, we need a strong, active, and well-funded public sector."

Amy hopes his Web site, four years in preparation, will help restore the public's belief in government as a force for good in our lives. Written for the average American, and especially for those who seek to argue against the slow, steady dismantling of government and its programs, (see link below) is the only online resource that both documents the recent attacks on the institution, while also providing tools to debunk those attacks, and demonstrating how indispensable, if often invisible, government is.

A member of the Mount Holyoke politics department since 1983, Amy has written extensively about the need to reform and revitalize American government. He is particularly interested in reforming American elections. His books include Real Choices, New Voices: How Proportional Representation Elections Could Revitalize American Democracy from Columbia University Press, and Behind the Ballot Box: A Citizen's Guide to Voting Systems from Praeger Publishers.

Here's a quick overview of some of the Web site's features:

A Day in Your Life with Government
Visitors can click on the "A Day in Your Life with Government" button to read an extensive account hour-by-hour of exactly how and when different government agencies improve nearly every aspect of an average person's daily activities, including such basic actions as flushing a toilet, and breathing clean air. Amy illustrates that "the good life" as we know it in the United States literally couldn't exist without the government's constant assistance and protection; that the high quality of life we enjoy today is due to essential contributions by both the private and public sectors.

Test Your Government IQ
You can "Test Your Government IQ" on such topics as whether or not the costs of government regulatory programs in the areas of Agriculture, Education, Health and Human Services, Environmental Protection Agency, and others outweigh the benefits to society--the answer is: "No." In fact, benefits exceed the costs by 5 to 1, "something even the Bush administration was forced to acknowledge (in 2003)," Amy notes.

Debunking Stereotypes
The number one citizen complaint about government is that bureaucracies are constantly growing and continually wasting taxpayers' dollars. Many Americans believe, for instance, that government wastes 48 cents of every tax dollar, Amy notes on his Web site. In reality, studies show that amount of waste is closer to two cents of every dollar. Debunking the myth of the unmitigated growth of the federal government, reports the number of federal workers actually decreased between 1970 and 2003.

Flawed Does Not Mean Bad
Despite being "an unapologetic defense of a vital institution," as the Web site's subtitle says, Amy readily acknowledges that government is far from perfect. In a section entitled "Revitalizing Democracy and Government," he describes problems with the current system and outlines a three-part solution, which includes the public financing of elections and the use of more representative voting systems. Amy is a published expert on the subject of proportional representation, the voting system commonly used throughout Europe.

Related Links:

Government is Good

NYT Blog: Doug Amy Web Site

Douglas Amy - Faculty Profile