Review: Barack Obama and Adam Conover Want To Shift the Blame for Government Failures

Netflix's The G Word tries and fails to restore faith in big government.


The G Word, a six-episode Netflix documentary, aims to convince Americans we need a large and powerful federal government to cure what ails us. But the stories it tells remind us that government is often a big part of our problems.

Hosted by Adam Conover (Adam Ruins Everything) and produced by former President Barack Obama (who appears in two episodes), The G Word tours many federal agencies the typical citizen might not think of much, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Weather Service, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The G Word describes many harms caused by poor government decisions—agricultural subsidies that distort markets, foot-dragging during emergencies, the failure of COVID-19 relief to get to those who need it. It even notes civilians killed in foreign countries by American drones during Obama's administration.

But the miniseries is intent on attributing the federal government's mistakes to either outside influences (particularly corporations) or insufficient funding, rather than poor internal decision-making, badly structured incentives, or incompetence. When discussing FEMA's failure to adequately respond to the needs of Puerto Ricans in 2017 after the island was struck by Hurricane Maria, for example, The G Word points the finger at red tape, which it remarkably describes as the "archnemesis" of government—as if it is not a creation of government itself.