The other day someone said to me, “I’m becoming a Libertarian. I’m tired of big government in my paycheck!”
I understood where he was coming from. I wrote a check to Uncle Sam and, ouch! I don’t enjoy taxes, either. I have to admit, though, that I also don’t enjoy paying the cable bill; but it’s something I accept for getting the service.
I wondered aloud, however, how much money I’d keep if so much wasn’t allocated to defense. I knew my friend was implying the spending on everything else, but nearly $700,000,000,000 a year must seem a little excessive to anyone. What he didn’t like, though, was the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) welfare, etc…
“Government should take care of defense and infrastructure and nothing more,” he said.
Fair enough. But, the question arises: What is infrastructure?
The preamble to the Constitution states: “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare….”
We can probably agree on highways, waterways, railways, sewers, and utilities, but what else is contained within promoting “the general welfare” and the “domestic tranquility” of the people?
Most people don’t hesitate to include schools and hospitals, but where do we draw the line? The quality of education provided in those schools? And what about the health system? What’s a hospital without the best care?
And what is “domestic tranquility” anyway? Wouldn’t that include social services?
Who defines the parameters of what is necessary for the “common defense”?
My friend left after I said, “It’s naïve to suggest that all we have to do is cut spending and programs and government will automatically get smaller. Government is what we’ve made it.”
We have demanded that our government protect our interests in areas that far exceed our Framer’s original understanding of Common Defense and General Welfare.
I would’ve asked my friend, had he stayed: “When a plane crashes, would you be satisfied with an explanation from Boeing or do you prefer that there is an impartial FAA to investigate with the authority to implement changes to prevent future mistakes?”
“When toxic waste is poured into a river and the neighboring town gets sick, would it be enough for the townspeople to ask that the company please refrain? Or do we need the aggregate voice of the people (government) to demand new practices?
“When the lunchmeat is bad at school, who protects our children from the choice a provider made to hold better margins?
The answer? Government of, by, and for the People.
The Libertarian ideal of agrarian government no longer exists because the conflicting interests and demands of 315 million people ensure that simplicity will never again be our operating system. There are exponential reasons government hasn’t shrunk even with Republican presidents and a Republican Congress. It’s like changing a tire on a moving car; the services contained within government were created by our demands upon it and in many cases spending (welfare, as well) has increased under the watch of the party who stands most firmly against it.
We can, and should, talk about defining government responsibilities. We should talk about spending, and we should talk about unnecessary programs, but those directives do not necessarily create smaller government or keep “government out of our paychecks.”
They can, however, aim us toward “better” government.
Government is the foundation of representation and the realization of our Founder’s vision. It is improved by working within the system outlined in our Constitution; by researching issues, participating with our votes, and even with our protests. But the size of government is determined by our demands and the debate should center on its efficiency toward meeting our needs. The distraction dilutes solutions that actually could put more money into our pockets.
Let’s leave talking about “size” to fishermen and insecure guys in bars.