Ian Downie from the University of Virginia had a good question about spending: "Our congressional representatives have huge incentives to steal the wealth from the vast majority of the country and funnel it down to their constituents. What kind of systematic changes can we make to stop this perverse incentive machine?"
"The special interests are always there," Boaz said. "The challenge is to get the public interest -- the taxpayers -- to stick around after the election, to keep putting pressure on. And that is very difficult."
He went on to say we need constitutional limits on what government can do. We tried that, of course, but too many insiders have an incentive to interpret the limits so broadly that they are hardly limits at all. So government grows.
Grant Babcock, from the University of Pittsburgh, raised a good point: "If government grows in response to crises, what do we do? It seems like there is always another crisis on the horizon. It used to be international communism. Nowadays ... it's the threat of Islamist fundamentalism. ... Are we trapped?"
The media do keep inventing new crises. The global-warming crisis, the swine flu crisis, the pesticide crisis.
"The running-out-of-oil crisis," Boaz added.
Crisis is a friend of the state.
As Boaz pointed out, however, "sometimes there are crises that cause countries to go ... toward less government. New Zealand hit a crisis like that, and they actually reformed their economy. So there's at least the hope that the next crisis in the United States or Europe will cause people to say: 'This hasn't been working. We have to cut back.'"
After spending time with those students, I feel better about the future of America.