Small Government

2016-11-19-small-govt-contentHere’s a surprise for my longtime readers:

I’m actually a small government conservative.

People always shake their heads at that because I’m socially very liberal, but I’m politically libertarian; i.e. anti-authoritarian.  “Conservative” doesn’t necessarily mean right-wing, nationalist, etc.  It simply means that one tends to be opposed to change for change’s sake.  It doesn’t mean one is opposed to change, although that’s often the way it’s used now even by conservatives.  But the basic underlying principles of conservatism have nothing to do with all the human rights issues and so forth that we’re now wrapped up in; conservatism just means you’re not going to jump in and push the “change” button without doing your best to ensure that the change is a positive one.  That kind of behavior how you end up with President Trump.

That is to say, precisely the opposite of the behavior displayed by most self-proclaimed conservatives in our most recent election.

People get confused by the small government thing, too, because I believe that government should be as big as it needs to be, and no bigger.  I believe the government that works best stays the hell out of my way and does what I’m paying it to do: make sure I’m not surrounded by people who are sick and ignorant because we refuse to recognize not just our moral obligation but our logistical need to ensure that people are healthy, well-educated, and able to pursue their talents and interests to their greatest possible potential.  The government represents the common effort to ensure a minimum standard of living for the governed, whether that’s defined by opportunity for achievement or by material security or by ensuring public safety and equal treatment under the law.  .

The classic pop-polisci understanding of rights has been that my right to swing my arm ends where your nose begins.  This balance between my right to swing my arm freely and your right to not be hit in the face is the fundamental basis of all our laws.

I understand that the growth of government-funded social welfare programs usually starts as a reaction to the failure of people to do what they insist they would do (and better!) than the government if only there weren’t so many taxes.

But when those taxes didn’t exist, neither did the systems and processes necessary to ensure equality of opportunity and access to vital resources. I’ve run the numbers, although I don’t know where the article is anymore. But several years ago I looked at both taxation and charitable donations as a percentage of household income over a period of around fifty years, and consistently when taxes as a percentage of income dropped, so did charitable donations.

When regulation didn’t exist to prevent private industry from rapaciously abusing natural and human resources, they did precisely that.

We wouldn’t have laws against murder and theft and rape if someone hadn’t done those things, and done them so often that a consensus had to be reached and laws instituted among us to attempt to prevent them from being inflicted on others.

The more you hate and spray paint and treat other human beings like you think you can whip and own them, the more there will be laws to ensure you can’t do those things. The less you genuinely contribute to society by helping where you honestly can, the more taxes will need to be collected to maintain everyone at a minimum without regard to their skin color or religion or gender.

Et cetera.

We are kept at each other’s throats to distract and divide us and keep us fighting against each other so we can’t stand together and fight for each other.

It has to stop.

One of the big fake arguments is over centralized versus localized power.  There are many things that work better when localized, and many that work better when centralized.  In either case, part of the job of the prevailing power is to be accountable to those over whom it holds that power, and part of the job of those over whom that power is held is to keep an eye on it and ensure there is accountability.  Checks and balances, just like all other aspects of our government.  We don’t need umpteen million different ways to say murder is wrong in this country.  There is no relevance relating to “community standards” in a murder trial.  Basic definitions of things, like “murder” or “rape” or “theft.”  There is an incredible degree of inefficiency in our system because of people using fundamentally sound reasoning to rationalize fundamentally unsound regulation, for instance invoking the Tenth Amendment to justify slavery under the disingenuous guise of states’ rights.

Where a seat of government is located is not the important defining aspect of how “big” or “small” it is.  We get wrapped up in arguing over state versus federal when we should be picking the most efficient path for enforcement and compliance and then moving forward with it.  State and even local government is not always small, and federal government is not always a thousand times larger than it needs to be.  It’s time to change the discussion.

This means getting rid of a lot of barriers, in both directions, to constructive cooperation between local, state, and federal governments.  It means refocusing our strength and energy toward fighting for each other, instead of against each other.

I’m not generally one to drag scripture into an argument, but in this case there’s a familiar passage from the King James Bible that I think is critical:

And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. (Mark 3:25, see also Luke 11:17; Matthew 13:25)

Right now we are divided every which way but loose, and it’s time to pull together.  We are at a dangerous time when it even needs to be explained why the phrase “President Donald J. Trump” is both mind-boggling and terrifying.  We’re on the verge of taking big steps back, and if we work together and remember the basics, we can avoid that devolution.  This does not mean refusing to criticize or strive for improvement as though any suggestion we are less than perfect already constitutes treason; that’s ridiculous and infantile and it’s time we grew out of that kind of thinking.  What it means is working together to understand each other and communicate effectively so we can work together toward our common goals, the most fundamental of which is the continued survival and evolution of human life.

It is in everyone’s best interest that we do everything we can to ensure as many people as can be healthy, intelligent, and productive are able to be so, and that every humane effort be made to ensure the comfort and dignity of those who, for whatever reason, are not able to be so.

Our government should be large enough, and only large enough, to accomplish those ends.

  • DonRice

    Well said, John. My favorite passages are below, with my comments specifically on them:

    When regulation didn’t
    exist to prevent private industry from rapaciously abusing natural and
    human resources, they did precisely that.

    Read more at: http://johnhenry.us/2016/11/19/small-government/#disqus_thread “… consistently when taxes as a percentage of income dropped, so did charitable donations.”

    Which strongly suggests that the primary reason the well-to-do make such donations is not out of a charitable heart but for getting a tax deduction.

    “When regulation didn’t exist to prevent private industry from rapaciously abusing natural and human resources, they did precisely that.”

    This fact puts the lie to the concept of industries being effectively self-regulating. Clearly and historically, they’re not.

    • Precisely. And while one hopes that the humans running the companies would apply their conscience, in the long term the institutional lack of conscience – the job of a business is to make money, not be nice, and the only reason they’ll be nice without being coerced is if it will make them money somehow, that’s why businesses contribute to community arts – one can no more assume that good will nor make policy decisions based on its expectation than one can assume that a door will open because you push on it. It might happen, it’s happened before, but it sure doesn’t always happen, and if you’re not paying attention and you’re in a hurry and act on that assumption through a plate-glass door that doesn’t push at high speed, you can hurt yourself badly.