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Friday, November 18, 2011

How Much Government Is Too Much?

As a Republican, and a fairly conservative one at that, I notice in the current political miasma a theme that needs to be explored and defined by our movement. What is the precise amount of government we should have? It's tempting to take the Libertarian route and declare that any function over and above law enforcement and national defense is too much, but we can all recognize that such a position is preposterous. We need to define, perhaps in the form of a document, exactly what we mean when we say we're for "limited government."

If we fail to define our own terms, they will be defined for us. The media love to do this, painting us as cold and heartless or vicious and war-mongering. Therefore, let me make a few suggestions about the general scope of government as I see it. I would welcome any input or additional detail that would add to the discussion. What I hope to do is spark the creation of greater coherence on the part of the conservative movement. That is not to say that we must all agree on every idea, but that, as a group, we should have at least some clear direction for where to take the country, rather than a vague "kinda' this way" sort of description.

1. The federal government exists to do those things that cannot be done by individual states.

Government works best when it is most responsive to the people. This is most true at the local level. Local needs should be satisfied by local agencies. If a community decides it needs to pay for free medical care for its poor and indigent, then the community itself should pay for it. If it finds that doing this attracts more of such individuals than it can afford, it will likely rethink such a policy. In this way, common sense has much more of an impact on policy decisions. Local politicians are much less likely to pursue counterproductive policies based on vague platitudes.

State governments should take care of issues affecting only the citizens of that state. Social welfare programs, for example, should rise no further than the level of the individual state. Taxpayers in Iowa should not be burdened with paying for welfare recipients in Chicago. If the State of Illinois wants to pay able-bodied people not to work, it should have to come up with the funds itself.

This same principle applies to many other federally-funded programs that have nothing to do with strictly national needs, but instead cater to individuals. School funding and policy should never have become a federal issue. Frankly, it would be a good idea to plan the gradual transition of Medicare and Social Security from federal to state programs. There is a public perception that the federal government is able to afford whatever is asked of it. We all recognize this notion to be false, but somehow every "oughta" gets translated into an expensive program at the federal level. By returning local needs to local governments, the federal government would be left with enough time and resources to do what it was established to do--protect our nation from foreign aggression and invasion.

2. There are certain functions which cannot and should not be privatized.

I once used the example of privatizing the military as a farsical analogy to eliminating public education. It then occurred to me that we have done exactly that to an alarming degree as of late. When any part of our military's uniform is being manufactured in China, we have crossed a line. When we hire private firms to become our military's chief supply line, we have entered dangerous waters. Corporations have no national loyalties. Nations are essentially service providers to them. If a nation's cost-to-service ratio becomes unfavorable, a corporation will switch providers. It simply makes financial sense. Trusting such entities with our national security is a bad idea.

Privatizing public education is an equally bad idea. Granted, public schools have not had stellar results in every case, but the quality of output is greatly determined by the quality of raw materials. In this sense, achievement is geographically predictable. Areas in which family values are strong and children are raised with a work ethic and respect for adults will have "good schools." Areas in which the opposite is true will have "bad schools." We have thus placed the responsibility for cultural degredation upon the shoulders of an entity without the powers to change the culture. Worse yet, we have made the students themselves unaccountable for their own success or failure. Government policy forces schools to promote students based on age, then lambastes them when students fail to take school seriously. Privatizing education will not eliminate this problem. Moreover, privatization will mean that even less money will reach students since, for the profit motive to be part of the equation, a profit must necessarily be made.

3. The United States government exists to protect the citizens of the United States.

You cannot pull others up unless you stand above them. For far too long we have tolerated the notion that America should be "charitable" with federal funds. This is nonsense. First, charity is voluntary by definition. Taxes are not. When real needs come up around the world, private citizens in our country donate vast sums of money. That is the way it should be done. Federal funds should be spent on American interests and nothing more. By spending our money bailing out other nations, we have added to a debt of roughly fifteen trillion dollars. As Mitt Romney stated, why not have China take over this function since we are getting the funds from them anyway? If we had a national surplus rather than a national debt, we might entertain the idea of donating to the welfare of other countries. We cannot continue to make our no-good brother-in-law's care payments while our own family goes hungry.

Immigration policy must be viewed the same way. If our unemployment rate was so low that employers could not find workers, it would be time to allow for a wave of immigrants. During a time of ten percent unemployment (twenty if you count everyone still desiring work), immigration should be curtailed entirely. Immigration policy should be tailored to benefit American citizens. It cannot and should not be used as a form of internatonal welfare.

I'm sure there are more ideas with which we can all agree. Perhaps there are some I have presented with which you disagree. If you can prove your point using logic and data, I'm willing to listen. The purpose of such a dialogue is to solve problems and unite behind a rational core set of ideas. We've been needing to do that for quite some time. Not since Gingrich's Contract for America have we done so, and look how far it got us then.

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