It is interesting that the term big government is thrown around so much but it is fairly difficult to define exactly what big government is. In fact it is equally difficult to define what small government is. It seems when either a liberal or conservative talks about what they want their government to look like, they will inevitably describe its size; big or small. The question of what exactly that would look like does not often come up. This is because most people have this vision in their mind of what they want the government to do. So this term or big or small government manifests itself in the vision of what exactly the government should look like.
To define what either of these sizes of government would look like is impossible. A big government could look like one thing or it could look like a completely different thing. While the various possible small government will look more similar to each other, there will still be plenty of variation because even a small government is still big. That brings up the point of is the big vs small government actually talking about the physical size of the government? No. What this is not talking about is how many employees the government has or how many representatives or administrative agencies there are or even how many government buildings there are. Certainly those things do have an effect and will certainly play into the analysis, but what people are really talking about when they discuss big vs small government is how much they think government should effect their lives. When you put it in those terms, it becomes clear why conservative like small government and liberals like big government.
When a person mentions small government, they are talking about how they do not want the government to change the way they live. Of course these people want the government where it is needed, but they really want to be able to make decision for themselves without government intrusion. The big government people are talking about a different level of reliance on the government. These people want the government to be noticeable on a daily basis. They want government services that they can utilize and rely upon in their daily lives. While the small government people will look at government services as a necessary evil that they have to participate in, the big government people will look at participation in these services as participation in the larger network of their government. It gives the big government people, a means of participating in the national self-determination process. The small government people do not want national self-determination, they want to be able to set their own path without reliance on government so view participation in the government national self-determination to be a distasteful thing. On the flip side, the big government people view the individual self-determination and self-reliance of the small government people as a scary thing. And none of this is to say that small government people do not participate in government, they do, they would just prefer government to be small and this does not go to say that the big government are incapable of doing things on their own, they are, but they would rather have more government telling people what to do.