Sunday, 4 July 2010

Getting Rid Of Big Government

I'd be willing to bet that most people don't like a big government. Conservatives hate it, liberals distrust it, and libertarians want to do away with it altogether. And while we are on the subject, regulation is little more than red tape that stifles legitimate competition. And don't get me started on all those nanny state laws designed to protect us from ourselves...

You know what, I'm going to bet that if you ask people where they stand on most of these talking points they would be unanimously against them. In the modern day world of sound-byte politics it should come as no surprise that these are perpetual talking points. Is anyone for unnecessary governmental expenditure? And in that lies my problem with such rhetoric. It's essentially meaningless!

Just what do you stand for?
It's so easy to be cynical when it comes to politics, perhaps a little too easy. With media sound-bytes portraying disingenuous politicians whose focus is on getting elected appealing to what we want to hear without saying anything that might hold them to account, the process is horrible and it's no wonder people distrust politicians. But it's important to remember that we are the selectors, we vote for these people and thus we need to take politics as a reflection of ourselves.

I say this because it needs to be remembered that we're in this situation now because we talk politics in sound-bytes. We don't know what proposals really entail any more, dress it up in words like national security or liberty or talk about the economy and beyond that we don't really know anything. We've reduced politics to polemic sound-bytes, everything from the environment to education is barely more than taking sides.

What amazes me is that issues like abortion and gay rights have the potential for elections to be decided around. That Bush was elected in 2004 on a pro-life anti-gay platform typifies the reason why I think there are so many cynics. It has turned into moralising, where politicians personal values become the issue. And perhaps that's in-part because we can easily understand what someone believes but not the consequences of any given policy.

Big Government as an issue in a way is a consequence of this type of thinking. Issues like gay marriage and abortion are issues that we are emotionally tied to, while the nuances of banking regulation are not. We can see the large percentage of money from our pay-checks but don't a connection between that and what the government does with the money. Figures like billions get thrown around which our mind can't even begin to adequately comprehend - it's no wonder we find Big Government bad!

That way we can say its too big without specifying how. Talk of cutting public service jobs as if those people were mere statistics. Ask for cutting taxes without knowing what taxes are doing. We don't have to know specifics because the specifics don't affect us. If we talk in generalities we can make ideological points without ever needing to substantiate it, and that's what Big Government has come to embody!

Drowning the baby in the bathwater
Of course there is the expectation of wasteful spending in government, each individual system cannot be micromanaged through democratic scrutiny, much like shareholders don't go through their company's books with a fine-tooth comb. It's the general overall health that matters.

But perhaps in terms of value for money, the illusion that the corporate enterprise as a profit-driven approach would be looking to maximise profits while a government does not. What is unnecessary doesn't get done, and a government cannot operate like that. Imagine a school system which was profit-driven. It should be about maximising outcomes for the students, ultimately schooling is an integral part of society. It's not to say a profit-driven approach cannot work, but that the outcomes are sufficiently distinct to warn against the approach. Surely having better educated children is the goal of the education system.

This is where I feel we run the risk of wanting to drown the baby as well as getting rid of the bathwater. The baby is just going to keep needing a bath so getting rid of the baby stops the necessity of bathwater. Sounds crude, but this is exactly what some propose in order to get rid of excess government fat. Why need the government at all? The services the government provides can be done without government, and by the free-market process should be much more efficient.

Before we drown the baby, perhaps it's important to ask why we have babies in the first place. Is our goal the best value-for-money education system or the most effective? Do we want the cheapest possible health system or a healthy society? I'm going to guess that the value for money is a secondary consideration for most people. For me personally, I want an education system that values education. I want a health system that looks after the health of people. I'm quite happy for these to be government programs because accountability lies within providing the services.

At the bottom line a broke government can't function. It needs to remain viable as well as providing those essential services. From my perspective, it's such a shame that so much money is thrown into defence at the expense of other services. It's understandable why, security is a huge issue and no-one wants to be thrifty when it comes to national defence. It has been taken to absurd proportions but is the bloat in military spending reason to get rid of the military altogether?

The dirty secret
No-one is an island, indeed no island is an island any more. We are interconnected, firstly from the self to the family and community in which we live, then from the community to the greater area. And so on until we hit state, country, and now beyond that. Each of us isn't working as individuals trying to get our own, we are a social species who have social obligations. We benefit from living in this social structure.

If an alpha male wolf doesn't share enough with other wolves in the pack, they rise up against the alpha. Perhaps analogous to the role of us as individuals. If we all don't prosper from our social situation then we are fostering the demise of society. The reach of the modern person has pushed to extremes the inequity of wealth, breeding resentment among the have-nots who are forced to work against their will for just enough to survive.

Dreams of a revolution are just that, the dirty secret is that the society we have around us now is one built for our prosperity. We have running water, an education system, health, welfare, access to general services, food, infrastructure - all this and much more are considered basic standards for living. And so they should be!

The government are a means to an end, and in a democracy there is at least a partial sense of ownership from the individual and the society to the government itself. They aren't some external force, but a culmination of internal ones. We lose democracy the moment we treat it as a monarchy. We stop having a representation of the will of the people and create Big Government.

If we want to get rid of Big Government, we need to change our attitude towards the democratic process. Government is an expression of us as a society, its prosperity is our prosperity and vice versa. Until that is realised Big Government will remain as a threat. This is the consequence of using rhetoric with little substance, it creates a bogey man instead of looking to address real issues.


Richard T said...

Internet should also be considered a basic human need. :)

Kel said...

I'm with you on that. A high-speed internet connection is now a legal right in Finland.