July 18 2014

Don’t Confuse Big Government with Better Government

Vicki E. Alger

The Brookings Institution’s Paul Light recently released an extensive report on why government fails.

Light identifies 41 high-profile government failures over the past 15 years and notes that the number of failures has increased. Poorly designed policies, structure, capacity, and leadership are just some of the reasons Light identifies for a variety of government failures, from Katrina to the Veterans Affair scandal.

However, there is a more fundamental reason why big government as opposed to constitutionally limited government fails.

Our government was never intended to be all things to all people.  Our Framers carefully defined legitimate powers of the national government, divided it into branches, and ensured a functioning checks and balance system. Critically, they distinguished proper roles for the national government and the state governments. Most important of all, our Framers envisioned American citizens as the ultimate safeguard and source of government authority and presumed all citizens were capable of self-governance.

Fast-forward to present day and government is attempting to micromanage virtually everything from the economy, to schools, to healthcare, and even what we eat. It’s no wonder government struggles with matters that most people would agree are within its rightful purview, such as national defense.

The Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards offers additional insight into the causes of government failure just in terms of how wasteful it is. In a nutshell, big, efficient government is an oxymoron. The best policy path is downsizing and restoring local control, according to Edwards:

There is no straightforward, technocratic way to “reinvent” the federal government to make it work with a decent amount of efficiency. … as long as the federal government is as large as it is, it will sadly continue wasting hundreds of billions of dollars from misallocation, mismanagement, and other problems.

The only real solution to the ongoing waste in the federal government is to downsize it. To improve the performance of American government, we should begin decentralizing funding and decision making for programs and activities out of Washington. We should revive federalism and hand more responsibilities back to state governments, while privatizing federal activities where we can.

 

 

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