Sunday, November 28, 2010

Government growth

I believe that government grows for a number of reasons, some legitimate, some not, but it grows primarily because growth is the natural state of government in an advancing society. Conservatives and lebertarians need to understand this as they develop their policy positions.

George Washington’s first cabinet consisted of Secretaries of War, State and Treasury, as well as an Attorney General. It is unsurprising however that as the republic matured there would be need for a Department of Energy, and one concerned with health, and that there would be subordinate agnecies concerned with food safety, disease control and the handling of nuclear materials. It likely did not occur to someone witnessing the Wright Flyer’s inaugural hop that this would lead to at least three separate government agencies and countless laws and regulations. It is understandable, and even desirable, that government expand in response to novel capabilities and complexities. This is the good kind of government growth.

On the other hand, while powered flight and wireless communication and such created arenas that required at least of measure of oversight, it is debatable that a federal authority concerned with education adds much to the institutions that thrived locally for millennia. Similarly, the proliferation of entwined armed federal constabularies of such questionable effectiveness that Arizona saw need to adjust its own law enforcement practices to compensate for the federal deficiency, suggests a government that grows untethered by reason. Government tends to grow because government agents, whether elected, appointed or hired, are naturally disposed to expand their influence, and to encroach on territory that history, tradition and common sense respected as the domain of individuals, or at most local groups that better understood their own needs and interests. This tendency toward overreach afflicts even nominal conservatives who adopt too romantic a view of the ability ot “make a difference” in people’s lives. Access to government power often tempts even the most ardent libertarian into thinking a little liberty can be sacrificed to a humanitarian-sounding legacy, or worse, to a dorm room bull-session philosophy. This is the bad kind of government growth.

Governments and large corporations share the trait of being created for particular purposes. Each is a form of specialization that seeks to maximize the efforts of specific individuals focused on specific tasks. Just as we would not expect an individual to construct an automobile exclusively from metal mined and formed by himself, we would not expect him to provide his own judiciary and criminal code in his relaltions with others. Ideally, governments perform specialized functions for the benefit and advancement of society, and business corporations perform specialized functions to provide better lives and create wealth. Generically, governments and corporations are morally neutral, and any good that they create or mischief they cause results from the moral character of the people that animate them. Both government and corporations have powers and abilities to impact people’s lives in good and bad ways. Like all institutions, this gives them the capacity to be exploited for varying degrees of advantage. We expect some government oversight of corporate activities, since it is assumed that private advantage is their legitimate corporate priority, and the public’s interest interest should be protected by public agents. However, when the activity of government is directed at private advantage or even ideological usurpation, this becomes corruption, and is the relentless pathogen that inevitably infects big government.

The sobering truth for libertarians and conservatives is that there is no single factor that leads to the growth of government, nor to the appeal that government has to a particularly shallow type of citizen, who sees government as an institution with an unlimited credit line, and the ability to exact compliance with idelogical fashions by force. Defending liberty is a twilight struggle. This truth is not new; it is simply a restatement of Wendell Phillips’s observation that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” The task of the libertarian, the patriot and of any free man deserving of the title, is identify, oppose and defeat the seductive sounding encroachments on the dignity of free men that are championed by government’s hemianopsic acolytes, who see only joy and harmony as the products of government force. We need to realize that it is an ingrained psychological compulsion that drives some men to ensure that others live a certain way. They are like the army of skeletons in the old “Jason and the Argonauts” movie that keep advancing and menacing while the decent and honest defenders of liberty battle them to protect a fragile treasure. To add to your subtitle, we not only reserve the right to defend leberty from theft, we shall defend it from those idiots that threaten it through misguided intentions, ignorance, malign motives, self-loathing, anti-human animus, and an inflated regard for themselves.

No comments: