The Size of the Government Is in the Eye of the Beholder

By Philip Bump

August 26, 2013

A Sunday article in the Washington Post offered straightforward data on changes in the size of government under Obama. Thanks in part to how the article was written, however, it quickly became a political flash point. Because bias reinforcement is easier than math.

We'll start with the summary: Under Obama, the government is shrinking, but not by a whole lot. The Post's report summarizing the change — fewer employees, a smaller budget, more regulations — has proven surprisingly useful to those who complain that government has grown. "What have 6 Congressional crisis over size of govt accomplished? Nothing. #depressingreads," said one Twitter user, elegantly representing the genre.

It's largely because of the framing of the piece. The title is "After six budget showdowns, big government is mostly unchanged," which is true — but is also like saying that someone on a forced diet is still mostly the same weight. That frame, making the piece an "anti-government diatribe" in the view of one commenter, is evident throughout the piece. Media Matters seized on the claim that the government has more employees than there are residents of 24 states. Or, looking at it another way: half of the population of the city of New York. ThinkProgress's Judd Legum points out that perhaps Bible-length isn't a good comparative metric for regulation density.

Read the full story at TheAtlanticWire.com.


By Philip Bump

August 26, 2013

http://www.govexec.com/management/2013/08/size-government-eye-beholder/69389/