With Small Government Dead, What Now?

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With the $700 billion market bailout inflating the power of government and a big-spending, big-regulating lDemocrat or a big-spending, big-regulating Republican poised to take the White House, a lot of experts and politicians are giving last rites to small government.

Just today, I’m reading the era of small government is over. And Reagan capitalism is a goner. And, dang it all, we need even more government.

Dick Meyer, writing for NPR, claims that small government was done in by 9/11, Katrina and the credit crisis. That sounds accurate, but I would add that the Bush-led inflation of spending is also to blame. Once you add money to budgets, it’s hard to ever take those dollars away.

So, should those of us who are wary of big government just roll over and hope we get a big ole’ federal belly rub? Nah. I’ve always said this an issue that doesn’t have to be either/or. The choice has never been between an overinflated government and a skeletal one. You can chart a more reasonable course. And, lucky for me, Meyer describes this viewpoint better than I could:

The modern federal government will and must be big, but it ought to be as little as possible, too. The American take on statecraft is to be wary of bureaucracy, sensitive that taxation is a curb on liberty, respectful of local authority, wary of centralized planning, and impressed but not blinded by the virtues of free markets and uncomforted by Big Brother. Common-sense adherence to these civic impulses is what constricts the vices of big government, not just the size of budgets.

It is precisely the lack of that common sense that has brought us to the Era of Huge Government, where our capacity to flexibly deal with new and unforeseen problems will be sorely constrained.

The major challenge for the next president is to figure out how to wield the bloated apparatuses of government so that they don’t cause more problems than they solve. I would suggest the new president could start by streamlining the areas that are inflexible and bulking up the areas that have grown ineffective. Of course, prioritizing would depend somewhat on ideology. But at the very least, we need a commitment to creating well-targeted government services rather than just tolerating the unwieldy, potentially oppressive government we are currently building towards.