Shrinking Government is a Lousy Idea

Contrary to some people’s opinion, the government is not the problem, and drowning it in the bathtub would be drowning ourselves. Individuals simply cannot do what government does.

Here’s an example. Assume that every individual in the country will be responsible for her individual share of the nation’s roadways. So every person looks out the front window and declares that she will manage the street in front of her house. But the neighbor on the other side of the street says he claimed that part first. As millions of individuals try to sort out their personal responsibility, some bright person comes up with the idea of a computerized list showing the 50-foot piece of pavement each individual pays for. But then someone objects because they don’t want their pavement to be in some obscure part of the next county. Eventually that gets sorted out. Then certain people see that their 50-feet need to be resurfaced. They call a contractor, who arrives, blocks off the street, resurfaces 50 feet of it, and charges a small fortune. The next day another contractor does 50 feet two doors down, but now there are three different road surfaces within 150 feet.

How much longer would this farce have to go on?
Obviously, government should do all those things
that are more efficiently done by government.

How much longer would this farce have to go on before we would have to admit that the plan is vastly too expensive and inefficient? Obviously, the way to do this is exactly the way we do it now, with government planning and management.

We could go through dozens of the things that government does and imagine what they would be like if each citizen were individually responsible, and we would find that virtually all of them would be far better performed by the government. Individuals should manage their own lives, but government should do all those things that are more efficiently done by government. Duh!

Most things that individuals would do better they already do, so it isn’t necessary to remove them from government hands. Most things that government does better, the government already does. There may be exceptions in either case, but if there are, those who think so should propose a debate, rather than making ridiculous statements about drowning us in the bathtub.

The idea of individuals being responsible for everything is ludicrous. Even stone age societies hunted as a group. There are thousands of things better done by government that are useful to everyone. And business has an obvious responsibility to pay its share because it uses things like transportation networks, communications, fire and safety, and so on.

Owners, did your business pay its share,
or are you a freeloader
letting the rest of us pay for what you use?

It’s very obvious that the conservative vision of YOYO (You’re On Your Own) is no pathway to equality or a vibrant democracy. And it is still very much true that big business did not build any of the infrastructure and services on which they regularly depend. Those were built by our tax dollars. Owners, did your business pay its share of taxes for the dozens of tax-supported services you use for free? Or are you a freeloader hiding the money someplace offshore and letting the rest of us pay for what you use?

Let me fast-forward the discussion. Conservatives claim health care and savings for old age should be everyone’s individual responsibility. But it is people with enough money who say this, not the full time workers who simply don’t make enough money to do it.

Saving for old age is impossible for millions of people because, although they work full time at jobs that are essential for the national functioning, they are grossly underpaid. Minimum wage workers cannot even afford the least expensive rent anywhere in the country. Buying food and clothing requires having more than one job. Health insurance and savings are literally impossible because those alone cost more than the worker’s total wages.

Millions work full time for wages so poor
they can’t afford rent anyplace in the country,
let alone to save for old age and buy health insurance.

But if they were fairly paid, they would have enough money to save for retirement. That could be done by the individual, but human nature being what it is, there must be laws that require individuals to save adequate amounts. The best way to do that is via a mandatory government program. Turns out that’s not radically different from Social Security, which is an excellent program that prevents extreme poverty in old age for many millions. No, it’s not going broke, and yes, they accounted for the boomers a long time ago.

Health care is another animal entirely. Costs have been rising faster than inflation for a long time. There are three primary reasons for this. (1) Administrative costs for insurance waste close to one dollar of every three, and provide absolutely no health care; (2) Advances in medicine are often costly. Even MRI, which has become routine, costs over $1,000 each time it is used. New meds are often pricey; (3) Medical education is enormously expensive, and new graduates begin practice with debt in the hundreds of thousands, so high pay is mandatory. There is also the factor of corporate greed, which jacks up the price everywhere.

A good program of national health care,
like the best in the world,
solves all three problems at once.

A good program of national health care, like those in the countries regularly cited as the best in the world, solves all three problems at once. And no, such programs are not at all “Socialist”. They are social common sense, cost-effective, and very popular. Their cost is half of what we pay for a plan that fails to cover millions of citizens. Government has the power to do things like: limit the corporate profit from drugs; get the best price by buying in large quantities; research treatments to find out which work best and are cost-effective; require doctors to be salaried, thus unable to boost their own pay by ordering excessive tests and procedures; pay for doctor training, thus controlling the cost and boosting the number of people who enter the profession, particularly among minority populations; establish independent panels for malpractice cases, which would be decided on terms of national norms, thus eliminating most costly jury trials and grossly excessive awards, and much more.

The idea of YOYO is ill suited for the American democracy. It makes inequality worse, and our inequality is already the worst among OECD nations.

Published in: on 2012/11/14 at 2:48 pm  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I disagree. Taxation is indistinguishable from theft, and must be avoided.
    If everyone was given their own portion of the roads, they would either sell off to someone else, or form a road maintenance union. The RMUs could be ran by local level direct democracy, for the best of all. Agreements would be reached and enacted freely. There could then by road maintenance union unions (RMUUs) for gains from sharing equipment, knowledge, and economies of scale. There was a time when roads were privately owned in England, and they were higher quality and more efficient than continental roads by governments.
    Forcing people to buy something, even healthcare, is wrong. But clearly, the profit motive isn’t enough on its own for healthcare, because (mainly) of lack of competition, and bad customer knowledge, allowing exploitation. But government-funded systems aren’t the solution, because they are innately inefficient, giving what costs too much because it’s already been paid, and having long waiting lists. Once again, some kind of union/charity system should be employed.
    Everything the government touches can have its violence applied to it.


    • I appreciate your opinion, but the claim that taxation is theft cannot be logically defended in a democracy. In spite of all the flaws of government, we do elect people who are charged with the duty of deciding how to provide the things we need as a nation, including taxes. If we don’t like what they do, we can replace them (sometimes easier said than done).

      I can’t say about the quality of government roads in England, but private roads here were decidedly inferior. Regardless, private roads were from a long time ago. Further, the quality of a road system depends heavily on central engineering and management. The interstate system could not have been built privately.

      There are certainly plenty of instances of government inefficiency, but that does not mean that private efforts would be better. Your plan for a series of unions to build roads seems unlikely to be an improvement.

      Conservatives constantly rail about the horrors of “Socialist” medicine, but the fact is that national medical plans work very well, and approval ratings are quite high. But they can only work if they cover everyone. We, on the other hand, have a grossly inefficient system that leaves millions with no coverage at all and costs literally double what national plans cost. Most people would benefit from the extra $7,000 yearly cash a national plan would give them.

      Generally speaking, the rugged American individualist is a fiction, a product of cowboy movies about frontier days. Each of us must be responsible, but we also benefit from the good will of others in our community and nation.


  2. The interstate system couldn’t be built privately?! Did you know that railroads were built by private businesses all across the united states?
    And as for the old “our benign overlords are the only ones smart and powerful enough to handle road construction”, that’s clearly a farce.

    Every single venture the government touches turns to ash. Every one of them decreases in quality and increases in cost.

    We have subsidized mail that charges as much as its competitors, is in debt, and doesn’t offer any service better than its competitors.

    We have roads that we hear are “underfunded” all the while spending too much on the projects it wants, and doesn’t allocate those funds responsibly, yielding the infamous “bridge to nowhere”, congestion, and paved roads where they are unnecessary, and it notoriously doesn’t provide money for upkeep but constantly expands the base.

    We have a military that is insanely overbuilt. We could wipe any country off of the face of the planet without much effort, and why? What the hell do we have 7000 nukes for? Why do we have 12 carrier groups when our nearest competitor has, what, 2? We have bases all over the world costing us hundreds of billions of dollars and provide nothing for the defense of our nation.

    We have a public school system that costs more and provides poorer education than private schools. Private schools are still able to compete even though the parent is paying for tuition to the private school AND the public school.
    I spent most of my school years in public school, but I spent two in private and I can personally attest to monumental superiority private schools have.

    We have entitlement programs that provides incentives for people not to work, and routinely provides benefits to those who don’t need them, at the same time denying those that do.

    We have gross college spending that, since it provides more money to the system, increases the cost, and their solution is to keep putting money into it! This is MADNESS.

    The heavy hand of the government is crushing our healthcare industry under nonsensical regulations so numerous that I couldn’t even begin to describe it here. All the while wondering how to fix the problems in the Healthcare Industry that THEIR MEDDLING PRODUCED.

    MY GOD MAN! There’s nothing the government does better than the private sector, so why do you think the private sector can’t handle roads or anything else better than the government? There’s no evidence for it, and yet there’s mountains of evidence for ineptitude staring you in the face.

    And it’s no wonder why! The government is a group of narcissists who’s primary talent in life is lying and expropriation. Why are our congressmen better at making decisions in the healthcare industry than the doctors and nurses that actually work there? Why are they better at handling roads than the people that actually work on roads? They aren’t! SO WHY IS IT ANY SURPRISE THAT THEY MAKE THE WRONG DECISIONS CONSTANTLY!?
    And you want to give these buffoons MORE decision making authority? On what basis between ineptitude and insanity do you base this preposterous idea?


    • Thank you for devoting some time to this. I do agree with some of what you say. In particular, the military is grossly fat, largely because large private contractors and their pet politicians who spend even on weapons that have been repeatedly killed. The Pentagon is a world all its own, almost a government all its own, but most of the real problem comes from private contractors and Congress. Private schools are better because they cost a lot. But their students are privileged kids with lots of money, and such schools are not at all democratic. I see the problem with public schools as: (1) inconsistent funding and underfunding; (2) politicians who meddle with things they know nothing about, such as rating teachers on standardized student tests, which are then used as justification for punishment; (3) failure of school systems to initiate cooperative plans to make teacher unions and administrators partners, which is far better than the adversarial system we have more often. The railroads were built by robber barrons of the Gilded Age, who bilked the country of billions and brought about the Great Depression. The mail system is semi-private, and saddled by Congress with huge expenses that no other agency has. But the real problem is that the internet has taken a large part of PO business. It has been shown repeatedly that people who become unemployed want nothing more than to find a new job. There are bums, of course, but they are few and not representative. You don’t mention how the government is crushing the healthcare industry. It couldn’t be by disapproving bad medical procedures or dangerous meds, which saves many lives. My take is that 1/3 of medical costs are due to the insurance industry, which provides no health care at all. A national plan like the best in the world would cut costs literally in half and cover the millions who can’t afford insurance at all. In short, I do not at all agree that what the government touches turns to ash. Nor do I see any evidence that the private sector is always better. None of this is to say that there aren’t poorly run government agencies and incompetent bureaucrats, or that private enterprise couldn’t do some things better. But I strongly disagree that you can make such a blanket rule.


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