Many conservatives like to state that big government is bad in itself. They think that there is some type of virtue or vice inherent in the size of your government. While I agree with the idea that we need to shrink government, I think we conservatives do a disservice to the cause if we cannot explain why we fight against growing government.
I turned on KTLK the other day and Sean Hannity was basically saying that a large government is wrong in itself. I would actually have to disagree with his logic. A large government can lead to very bad things. It can also lead to good things. However, a vehicle with a lot of power may get the goods to the destination faster, but it could also hurt a lot of people if it gets on the wrong track. This is the bigger issue when it comes to power in government. We fight against the growth of government because there is a great risk of harm associated with strongly centralized power.
Many of my statist friends like to point out all the wonderful things powerful governments have done for societies throughout history. They usually fail to point out the atrocities that went along with that power. Communist Russia may have brought the modern industrial state to Russia, but they also murdered millions in the process.The real problem is that a government with large amounts of power, can wield that sword in any direction.
There is also an opportunity cost that is spent with every project created by the central power. Each comes at a cost to projects, ideas, and innovations that would have been made in the private sector. Do big governments get it right? Perhaps sometimes. Probably not most of the time. But I would say that the stakes are a lot higher if they do mess up. Human nature says that someday they will mess up.
For example, take a somewhat fictional example of trade with Japan. If there were a movement among private consumers to boycott Japanese goods based on the idea that they were inferior, trade may suffer between our two countries. If those assertions turn out to be false, consumers would likely warm to the idea of Japanese goods over time and will eventually resume normal purchasing.
Now, what happens if the movement to boycott Japanese items is enacted into law? The United States decides to ban the importation of goods from Japan via a new law. All trade ties are severed, and consumers lose the ability to “test” Japan’s products for improvement in quality. Japan, equally annoyed at the US, bans imports from our country. Soon we are deadlocked in a trade war.
In a short amount of time, producers in both countries adapt to their new-found captive audiences. They essentially build a new ecosystem, without the threat of competition from the other side. Both systems will be weaker for it, giving the customers a worse deal in the end. The sad truth is that both sides will begin to rely on the power of government to continue to enforce the trade barriers. Otherwise, their artificial markets would suffer. Powerful lobbying groups will likely develop to keep the status quo in place and the “mistake” will likely never be corrected.
This sort of government intervention happens all the time. Just look to the sugar tariffs in case you are interested in seeing the damage that government regulation has on an economy. The history of the sugar tariffs is ripe with unintended consequences.
Next time a friend argues for “a new law,” put it to the test. Ask yourself what is the worst that could happen? I’ll bet the worst that could happen is actually worse than what you could think of. The history of new government programs has not been a pretty one. Most have landed us in some pretty deep trouble. Government power is a double edged sword. What appears to help one person, usually hurts another.
Wouldn’t it be better to let individuals and markets decide the outcomes? The stakes are just to high for an overbearing government to mess things up!
For an in depth look at why big government tends toward bad outcomes, find a copy of F.A. Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom.“