Big Government is Swallowing the NGOs

Several amazing statistics are given in a recent Wall Street Journal article that details the extent to which the activities of the nation’s NGOs are now essentially controlled by Washington. It is one of the most remarkable features of the American experiment – more so than in any other nation – that our people spontaneously form robust civic, religious, charitable and educational organizations, which successfully address the people’s problems. This aspect of American life was already highlighted nearly 200 years ago by de Tocqueville. It has remained so throughout the generations and plays a key role in the United States’ ongoing quest to ensure liberty and prosperity for its people.

But, alas, the nation’s civic associations have been coopted by the federal government. This is an assertion that we sense is true by simply observing the landscape. The nation’s institutions of higher learning are increasingly dependent on Washington for funds and priorities. The public schools look to Washington for not only resources, but also for standards. Unfortunately, similar statements can be made about so many of our NGOs: arts societies, philanthropic entities, community organizations, aids societies, relief organizations, civic associations, business roundtables and on and on.

Now, James Piereson, in a remarkable piece entitled, HowBig Government Co-opted Charities, in the WSJ last week demonstrated the extent of the government takeover of America’s civic associations with some eye-popping statistics. Here are Pierson’s observations:

For much of U.S. history, nonprofits have operated as a check on government by providing private avenues to serve the public interest. Unfortunately, American charities—and more broadly, the entire nonprofit sector—have become a creature of big government. For decades, the U.S. government has administered research, welfare, housing and educational programs through a system of grants to state and local governments, colleges and universities, hospitals, research organizations, consulting firms and not-for-profit advocacy groups. In the past 50 years, federal spending has exploded 36-fold, to about $3.6 trillion in 2012 from $100 billion in 1962. Meantime, the number of federal civilian employees has expanded modestly in comparison—to 2.8 million in 2011 from 2.5 million in 1962. The reason the federal government can increase its spending without adding many employees is because it subcontracts so many of its functions to ostensibly private institutions. This system has gradually turned much of the not-for-profit sector into a junior partner in administering the welfare state.

In Europe, the Far East, indeed everywhere, the people – whether in democracies or dictatorships – look to the government to solve their problems and manage their affairs. It was the genius of the American people, from even before the Revolution, to look to themselves, not the government, to deal with their problems. Such an attitude is consistent with and fosters the spirit of limited government that is the hallmark of our revolutionary nation. If we abandon that spirit and our attitude reverts to that of our less free brethren in democracies around the world, then our system of limited government will fail. We will fall further into the abyss of “benevolent tyranny” that besets the nations of the European Union.


This piece also appeared in The American Thinker at: