Writing from Charlotte, North Carolina
One of the appeals of big government is that is has so much to offer everyone. Those, myself included, who want government to radically reduce its size, intrusiveness, and power have nothing to offer except freedom and liberty. Sadly, those things don’t seem to matter to many people today. Or perhaps people have forgotten what these words mean and how much government infringes on both.
How has government become so big, and why are calls for smaller government so unpopular? In an article titled Handing Out The Goodies, Gene Callahan quotes Jim Henley as follows:
At bottom the problem is this: limited-government types, conservative or otherwise, don’t much like politics. We think politics should retreat from broad areas of economic and social life rather than advance into new ones.
We’re exactly the sort of people who are going to suck at political activity.
And we haven’t got a lot of goodies to offer. The State-Capitalist GOP can offer businesses all sorts of subventions. All we can offer them is “a chance to compete on a level playing field.” The Christian Right can offer busybodies a country in which the police enforce their morals on the unrighteous. All we can offer them is the right to try to hector the unrighteous into agreeing with them. The national-greatness right can offer the chance to kill foreigners and Do Good and feel part of a grand enterprise. All we can offer is boring old peace. The welfare state left can offer people oodles of other people’s money. We got squadoosh.
Political success comes from energizing defined constituencies and we ain’t got any.
Mr. Callahan’s article continues to explain how coercing people to spend more than they freely want to on government makes them worse off. It reduces their wealth and well-being. This is because when the government takes from one and gives to another, there is no improvement in peoples’ lives. One person’s gain exactly equals one person’s loss.
In market transactions, however, both parties are improved, as people enter into only those transactions they believe will benefit them.
The coerced transactions that the government forces upon us benefit one person or group at the expense of another. Now as government becomes larger and more intrusive (and it has under administrations in a long time, including that of President Bush) it has more methods at its disposal to benefit one person at the expense of another. There arises a powerful incentive to lobby the government for favors. As Mr. Callahan explains:
Once this process is set in motion in some society, an ever greater part of its members’ efforts to improve their lives will tend to be directed towards manipulating the political system into sending as many of the goodies it hands out in their direction as possible. Of course, that activity, unlike the voluntary exchange of goods and services characterizing a free market, is a zero-sum game, where every gain of mine is offset by a loss of yours. But the losers in one “round” of the game are thereby inspired to devote even greater effort towards ensuring the next round goes their way. And the existence in every society of power-hungry individuals, who will come to realize that they can exploit this struggle over cuts of the distributive pie for their own ends, ensures that there will be no lack of “leaders” intent on organizing these competing interest groups and assuring them that their demand for more goodies is an expression of justice itself.
All this effort spent getting the government to grant favors, be they subsidies for arts, culture, or museums in Wichita; or businesses seeking tax abatements, industrial revenue bonds, subsidy, preferred treatment, or set-asides; or the outright asking of government for money, all this is economically unproductive and diverts time and effort from value-producing activities. We would all be wealthier and better off if government would stop coercing us into making transactions that don’t benefit both parties.
The problem is that with government spending there is a third party involved, that being the politicians that gain favor with groups and individuals by sending them someone else’s money, and with that, taking away a big chunk of freedom and liberty.
This is the system that is so entrenched and growing so fast that calls to end it and return to a limited government are brushed away as laughable and untenable. That is a sad realization.