In other places I’ve made it pretty clear that I lean sharply libertarian and that the role of government should be sharply limited. “To preserve these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” That’s it. Going beyond what’s necessary to “secure these rights” is to go beyond “just powers.”
As I point out in earlier blog posts, a certain level of government actually helps to secure the basic rights of Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of Happiness (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)
Obviously, we are far, far beyond that point. To get there we need to cut government back, way back.
Here’s where I part company with many Libertarians. They want to do it in one fell swoop. Every part of government that is not part of the minimum necessary “to secure these rights” (which some consider to be “all of it”) must go. Now.
That, however, may not be a good idea. Oh, the end goal of getting rid of most of what government does may be a laudable one but the question is how.
Consider this analogy. A man has been shot with a number of arrows and is lying there like a meat pincushion. The wounds, if properly treated, are such that he can survive and heal. If left as his he’ll bleed to death.
Some folk have the instinct to jerk out all the arrows since they’re what caused his wounding.
Very foolish that. Those arrows are also plugging the holes so he doesn’t quickly bleed out.
This is where we are with government. It’s bleeding free society to death, slow or fast depending on your perspective but it’s also “plugging the holes”.
Consider what President Dwight Eisenhower said about Social Security and other programs: “Should any political party attempt to abolish social security unemployment insurance and eliminate labor laws and farm programs you would not hear of that party again in our political history. There is a tiny splinter group of course that believes you can do these things. Among them are a few other Texas oil millionaires and an occasional politician or business man from other areas. Their number is negligible and they are stupid.”
Eisenhower was not endorsing Social Security and those other programs. No, he was pointing out the reality that so many people had grown dependent on them that people would rise in such outrage that the “offending” party would be voted out of every office they hold, from President all the way down to dog catcher, and never be heard from again. [Ed. Note also what I had to say in Yesterday’s post, The Dismal Science.]
And the plain fact is that many more people are dependent on many more government programs than ever before. Cut the program and people will suffer, in the short term at least. Maybe, probably, they would if given time adjust to the new situation and the economic growth that comes from the increased freedom and less tying up of the economy caused by the government passing money back and forth from hand to hand with no new products and services to show for it would improve their lot. But there’s the problem “given time”. Most people will only see their immediate hardship. As the line says from the movie Annie (the 1982 version; I haven’t seen the 2014 version and don’t intend to) “People don’t eat in the long run.”
There’s another factor as well. Even if you remove the arrows and stop the bleeding, infection brought in by the arrows through the open wounds they created can still kill the body.
What is the infection in this metaphor? Infection is the beliefs and ideas that are only government can solve problems or, perhaps more pernicious, government can solve them best. And so, even if you reduce the size and scope of government (or, miracle of miracles, get rid of it entirely) the moment problems arise (and they will, this being far from a perfect world) people will immediately turn to government to “solve” those problems. And how do you stop them, short of force, which would make you a government?
It’s a strange infection that causes people to stab themselves with the very arrows you just pulled out of them, but, well, it’s not a perfect metaphor.
The other problem is that the arrows are barbed. The organs of government, in the end, are made up of people and they are going to “softly and silently vanish away” because you are no boojum. They’re going to resist. Remember the Iron Law of Bureaucracy? The people in charge of most of the bureaucracies are “type 2” bureaucrats, those dedicated not to the goals for which the bureaucracy was formed, but to the organization itself. They aren’t going to quietly see it go down, and they’re perfectly willing to do untold damage in their fight for institutional survival.
We saw exactly that under Trump. The irony was that people claimed Trump was paranoid for claiming that the “Deep State” was working against him to undermine his Presidency (starting with putting surveillance on his campaign). And time and again during various hearings we saw witnesses describing how they had worked against Trump to undermine his Presidency, starting with surveillance on his campaign.
Thus, while reducing the size of government is a good thing–indeed, it’s something that must happen if we’re to remain anything resembling a free and prosperous country–great care must be taken in how its done. It needs to be done gradually–we didn’t get where we are in an instant and we won’t get back in one either. We must be prepared to deal with the “bleeding” that will come from removing each “arrow”, with the infection that it’s let into the system, and with the hidden barbs it contains, lest instead of a healthy, prosperous nation we end up with an exsanguinated corpse.
Recognizing this, of course, makes me a horrible “statist” who doesn’t care about freedom. Or so I’ve been told.