The conservative argument about big-government inefficiency is repeated time and time again. Conservatives argue that an expansive government leads to a bloated bureaucracy that incurs unnecessary administrative costs, taking away funds that could be used for more practical matters. The left has made valid rebuttals, and yet conservatives often buckle down on the same old claims. At this point, most of us disregard the conservative approach as partisan canon.
The left’s common rebuttal to the classic conservative argument is that, though some policies might not be completely efficient, those policies are moral, and the moral benefits exceed the practical costs. For example, this argument applies to social service programs. As I’ve said in previous columns, it’s correct and moral for the government to provide for those who can’t provide for themselves, such as the elderly, the unemployed, and the mentally ill. These demographics consume more resources than they produce. It’s not the most efficient way to regulate our economy, but it has a moral basis.
This issue between the parties is now simply an argument over to what degree the government should provide welfare assistance. While this dispute is one of the foundations of the modern political debate that we see today, there’s another, older reason why we can’t avoid some government inefficiency. Sometimes, we actually need it.
The classic Western government, like we see in France, is heavily centralized, reducing conflict between the overarching government and smaller municipal governments. When citizens vote, their vote is expressed nationally. This kind of government is, on paper, an extraordinarily efficient kind of government. Yet France has been riddled with problems throughout its history. Over the course of the French Revolution(s), we saw an efficient national power abuse minorities and become filled with tyrants attracted to power alone. Today, we see that administrative mistakes made in Paris radiate throughout the country, and local communities have trouble fixing those problems themselves.
This transition never happened in the U.S. We have always had a federal government with powers split between branches, separate state governments, and local municipalities. We have what most of us learned about in our high school classes: federalism. The upside to federalism is that problems don’t radiate throughout the government, and the American people are less susceptible to oppression and tyranny. All we have to do is sacrifice some efficiency.
But, there’s another, less talked about reason why smaller government is better. A smaller government with enough strength to regulate business can facilitate the efficiency of the free market while preventing that market from taking advantage of the people. We should replace government influence with market activity.
Some worry that these new companies might then just turn into the classic “corporate monster” that liberals worry about. Then, instead of the government being tyrannical against its citizens, we have corporations terrorizing their consumers. As long as we ensure, however, that the government, both state and federal, have the power to regulate—though they should regulate judiciously—these businesses, we can combine the efficiency that we complain about not having with the freedom from tyranny the founding fathers sought.
This is where the conservative idea of a smaller government comes into play. It’s not that inefficiency is always bad; sometimes, as we see, it’s good. What we should do, however, is pull back the influence of the government and the avoidable inefficiency that comes with it, and replace it with the private market. Individual businesses must be effective, else they fail. While it’s close to impossible to create or end a federal program, businesses open and close every day, leading to a gradually better marketplace. Therefore, decreasing the size and influence of the government will in turn allow the country to naturally improve.
Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor