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February 19, 2006

The “downsizing” meme spreads

According to Wikipedia, Richard Dawkins coined the phrase meme; to refer to any cultural entity, for example a song, an idea or a religion that might be considered a replicator. Simply, for our purposes, let’s call it a phrase that’s so powerful it gets repeated over and over.

Traditionally, the meme small government advocates have promoted has been the idea of liberty, or freedom, but these words are so abstract, and so open to interpretation, as to be almost meaningless. When communists and facsists alike can speak of freedom or liberty as their goal, and they have and do, it becomes difficult to communicate that you mean something entirely different. Words that have to be explained don’t make very good memes.

But no one can be unclear about what we intend when we say we want to downsize government. It means we want to make government smaller. The word is well-understood in the context of business. When a business is unprofitable it needs to cut out unprofitable activities. It needs to downsize. The idea translates to government. If government is doing things it shouldn’t be, it needs to downsize. It needs to be smaller. Nothing has to be explained. The word “downsizing” in regards to government, is a perfect meme, a perfect replicator.

And it is replicating.

For instance, the Cato Institute is using the word more and more. First, Chris Edwards wrote a policy report for Cato that used the word, and now Cato is publishing a book by Mr. Edwards titled “Downsizing Government.”

Cato is also offering the book as a premium in a fundraising letter that invokes the downsizing meme six times. Go Cato! Spread the meme!

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