Small government advocates are a little too happy at the belt-tightening going on (at state and local levels, anyway) to deal with the effects of the recession. Utah’s legislature is overshooting estimates in its zeal to make government smaller. Is smaller government desirable? Sure!
However, in order for conservatives to prove, in the famous words of Saint Ronald that, “Government is not a solution to our problem; government is the problem,” small-government types need to unplug the mouths and plug in the helping hands.
Here’s the list of things that must be taken up by the community if the state and local governments are not to do it:
– Higher education
– Public education
– Workforce services
– Prisons and jails
– Courts and Law enforcement (we do have a lot of guns here; hmm. . . )
– Public health and safety
– Fire departments
– Zoos and parks
– Care for the elderly, disabled, poor, homeless, abused, orphans, etc.
– Infrastructure (roads, mass transit, communications, etc.)
– The National Guard
– Policing and regulation of whatever government functions are left
– Natural resource protection and/or development
– Ad infinitum
That’s quite a to-do list, and it won’t be done with tax-deductible donations or by Filling The Boot with loose change. It will take actual physical participation in all of these endeavors.
So, are you with me? Are we gonna do it?! Are we going to take back our government?!?! I have a feeling there’s a lot of hemming and hawing going on; why? Because we’re too busy with other stuff. Socrates’s model of specialization is as valid today as it was then. “We are not all alike; there are diversities of natures among us which are adapted to different occupations. . . . And will you have a work better done when the workman has many occupations, or when he has only one?” Or written by Thomas Gordon in Cato’s Letters No. 38, “What is Government, but a Trust committed by All, or the Most, to One, or a Few, who are to attend upon the Affairs of All, that every one may, with the more Security, attend upon his own?” This is the concept that the “consent of the governed” is based on. But as Mr. Gordon points out, “A great and honourable Trust; but too seldom honourably executed; those who possess it having it often more at Heart to encrease their Power, than to make it useful; and to be terrible, rather than beneficent. It is therefore a Trust, which ought to be bounded with many and strong Restraints, because Power renders Men wanton, insolent to others, and fond of themselves.“
Can we have hobbyist public works crews, police, judges, librarians, prison guards, or bus drivers, people who only do these jobs when they get around to it? No. This is why we have government. Because it provides that same specialization that too many of us spit out as “bureaucracy.”
Why do we expect the product of our imperfect Constitution to be perfect? Why would we expect the execution of that Constitution to be any less difficult than the establishment of it, where some of the greatest of the Founding generation walked out of the Convention, refusing to sign? Government has two strikes against it: 1) it is created by man, therefore deficient in its design; and 2) it is run by man, therefore deficient in its execution. A third strike in modern America is that most of us don’t know anything about it, but that doesn’t stop us from criticizing like a bunch of Pointy-Haired Bosses. I’m not saying we shouldn’t criticize the government; in fact I think it’s our duty to watch every move it makes. But in the end I think we need to acknowledge the good it does. Gandhi said “History is really a record of every interruption of the even working of the force of love or of the soul.” The picture we get of government is the same: we are never told of how much good it does, but only of how it screws up. We need to accept that a human-built and human-run system is going to have failures. The other option is no government at all—I think I’m a lot closer to that than most, and it still scares me.
Two things the government has going for it are 1) its specialization, and 2) its economies of scale; nobody can negotiate, buy, spend, help, hurt, save, or kill on the scale the government can. Who else could have built an interstate freeway system, saved the world from Nazism, and put a man on the moon? I know what you’re thinking (to quote Magnum): the markets could have done it if given the chance. No, they couldn’t. Because the market would have to raise the capital to start, and would have to prove that its plan would pay off in order to do so. Who would have invested in a man on the moon? (Actually, what good has it brought us besides Tang?) The smart money was on the Nazis in WWII. Sometimes the market is actually slower than the government, because the market has to obey the laws of fear and greed, where governments can do things for simple necessity and altruism.
So, let’s see what happens as our governments shrink. Will there be a groundswell of “conservatives” striding forth to take up the banner government has let fall? I’ve got a bowl of popcorn and a comfy recliner because I think it will be that interesting.