Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Gov(ernment)

Posted: Jan 14, 2010 7:22 AM
There's an important and provocative interview and essay out over at Reason's blog by William D. Eggers and John O'Leary, "Five Reasons Why Libertarians Shouldn't Hate Government." Though directed at libertarians (it's Reason, obviously) it should be taken as a message to all small-government types, conservatives, libertarians, tea partiers, whoever.

Many conservatives and libertarians come from the world of business. They don’t particularly like government. They view it as merely a necessary evil. As a consequence, they rarely immerse themselves in the intricacies of governing, preferring to make their case from a safe distance.

Once in power, they tend to have far more difficulty navigating the complex terrain of the public sector. The result? From Ronald Reagan’s Grace Commission to the 1995 government shutdown by a GOP Congress, most high-profile attempts to shrink government fail.

Until small-government types better master the nuts and bolts of the public sector—how to design policies that work in the real world and how to execute on large public undertakings—their initiatives to downsize government will continue to disappoint.

[# More #] As they note, mindless deregulation and spending cuts are not useful and may be actively harmful to the limited-government cause. They offer examples of limited government reforms that worked (such as airline deregulation) and those that failed (certain deregulation of utilities).

The authors also emphasize that, to win the argument, it's important to also note the successes of big government. They're right; on occasion, big government has worked, as they note, in the Marshall Plan and the Apollo space program, among other endeavors. But it is the work of limited-government advocates to note that this is for one of a few reasons. The government undertaking could justifiably be within the sphere of what constitutes a legitimate function of government, or it could be an anomaly, a unique cresting of personality, time and place, and that these anomalies are the exception, not the rule, to big-government enterprises. It may be for other reasons.

The questions and assertions made by the authors are fascinating and controversial; what do you think about their advice that small-government advocates stop worrying and learn to love the gov? What other reasons are there that a big-government program would succeed?

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