Structural Reform: What Do You Think?

August 28, 2011

Paul Ryan vs. the status quoAs I’ve discussed before, no matter how you measure it, government is big, and getting bigger all the time.  Comparatively speaking, Democrats are certainly the party of higher taxes, more spending, a greater regulatory burden, and more “entitlements”, but the government only ever seems to get bigger, under Democrats or Republicans. 

I’ve suggested before that possibly this trajectory can be altered only by repealing the Seventeenth Amendment (popular election of senators) or an equivalent structural reform, or that having a strongly pro-federalism president might be the next-best thing, but it’s possible that the former is impossible and that the latter will not be enough to change the basic trajectory.

So I’d like to open the discussion.  What do you think?  What could we do to reverse the remorseless growth of government?  Use your imagination—it doesn’t have to be something that would require a constitutional amendment, or even a governmental change at all.

I’m going to make this an experimental “slow” post—all comments will be held until roughly a week after this entry was originally posted.

Seriously, if you have any thoughts, please do feel free to share them below!  I won’t promise that no one will disagree with your idea, but I will promise to moderate the comments and keep any discussion civil.

13 Responses to “Structural Reform: What Do You Think?”

  1. Snoodickle Says:

    Why is big government such a bad thing? None of my liberties have been infringed upon, have yours? I think people have a basic misconception about the nature of government. I would define government as when we come together to accomplish things. Why is this bad? And why should private citizens be able to trample upon my liberty? If, for example, you get your way regarding the EPA and environmental regulations, I will be forced to live in a nation where the environment is being destroyed in the name of business. What about my right to live in a county where people respect the environment? And without the government, what recourse do I have? Am I allowed to kill the people that are destroying the environment? This would fit perfectly with your less government equals more freedom theory. Fine, we have no government, but if private citizens trample upon the rights of other private citizens, citizens are allowed to settle those disputes themselves. Is this the kind of world you want to live in? I’m fine with that, just give me the heads up.

    • Tevyeh Says:

      I don’t think Chillingworth has said anything to suggest that he’s an anarchist. The issue is not the existence of government intelf, but government overreach, particularly at the federal level. As an example, remember his post about federal regulation of showerheads? Such strict regulation of water use only makes sense in places where fresh water is a scarce resource—which isn’t the case for the most densely populated regions of the country. Showerhead regulations might make sense in Arizona, but not in Michigan. There’s a strong argument for leaving these matters up to the states.

      As for your definition of government, I’m a little more pessimistic. Government is the regulated application of violence. Don’t buy it? Try refusing to pay your taxes. Hold out long enough, and men with guns will come for you. Now, I’m not saying it should be otherwise—I’d much prefer this type of violence to the type found in lawless places with ineffective governments—but it’s an argument for strong checks on the size, distribution, and scope of government power. The knee-jerk reaction of many liberals (and in some cases, conservatives) to try to fix all perceived evils by a relentless expansion of government power is, in my opinion, misguided.

  2. Tower of Babel Says:

    “…then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them.”

    I think Tevyeh’s definition of government is the more usual one, the poli-sci 101 definition, if you will.

    Snoodickle’s definition sounds more like the way people think of the Rotary or something. Respectfully, I submit that it lacks enough precision to be useful.

    But further, let me draw attention to Snoodickle’s precise phrasing: “when we come together to accomplish things.” That’s telling. Accomplish what things? I’m totally in favor of people working together for the Good. But they can just as easily work for anything else, once they have the power. And it’s unlikely that we’ll all agree on what is Good, anyway, in all situations.

    People coming together to exercise coercive power, in the name of someone’s definition of “good”? Perhaps, as Tevyeh says, it is necessary to have that one legitimate user of violence. But restraint is important. What happens when we all come together and decide that our understanding of “good” is getting rid of all the Snoodickles?

    Snoodickle also writes: “What about my right to live in a county where people respect the environment?” It seems to me sortof laughable to suggest that anything in the American governmental philosophy tells us we have the right to force others to share our opinions. Notice that this “right” Snoodickle claims is ENTIRELY about everyone else. It is a coercive aspiration. My right to have everyone else think a certain way?

    (There are pragmatic problems with this understanding, too. What about the right of all those evil Republicans to live in a country where people respect big businesses? Why do you insist upon infringing on that right of theirs? And what should the government be allowed to do to force you to respect big business?)

    Also, more broadly, and less on topic, Snoodickle is not forced to live in a country where people are destroying the environment. Any of us is free to move to New Zealand any time!

    • Snoodickle Says:

      I don’t care if anyone shares my opinion. Think of it as a property right, I live on the earth, and I have the right to breath clean air, drink clean water, and not have my trees cut down and my animals killed. You don’t have to agree with me, just don’t pollute my air and kill my animals. What does thinking have to do with it?

  3. I agree with Tevyeh and Tower of Babel, but apparently I still feel compelled to offer a couple of further observations.

    1 — I think the answer to the first part of Snoodickle’s comment is already contained within the last part of Snoodickle’s comment: No, of course I don’t want to live in a Hobbesian state of nature where we’re all killing each other all the time to protect our perceived interests. That’s why we come together and form a government, with a “social contract”, whereby we agree to give the government (with few exceptions) a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. That’s why, as Tevyeh and Tower of Babel have already said, we should limit the government’s power as much as possible.

    I’m all for people coming together to accomplish things, when it’s through voluntary associations—the Rotary Club, a group of neighbors who get together and try to clean up their neighborhood, whatever. It becomes a very different thing as soon as they try to use the government to control other people.

    2 — I think my position is exceptionally strong in this entry because I didn’t just complain about “big government” (which we already knew that you favor and I don’t); I pointed out that government keeps getting bigger. E.g., government spending (federal, state, and local combined) accounted for about 20% of total GDP in 1950 but 40% in 2009. If you’re not actually Communist, you don’t want that number to reach 100%, which means that no matter how much you love big government, on this trajectory, eventually the reality of American government will surpass your ideal of how big it ought to be. So, how big do you think would be too big? What do you think we should do to change this trajectory?

  4. Maybe I should also answer your question, if you’d like me to defend the weaker position as well:

    3 —

         a — Yes, I certainly think that my liberties have already been infringed. The government tells me what kind of showerhead I can buy. The government takes a significant part of my money just to give it to other people (which is stealing, by the way). See de Tocqueville’s description of the soft tyranny of the modern regulatory state.

         b — Even if my own liberties had not been infringed (yet), it would be important that I stand up for those whose liberties have—e.g., all those people I was just talking about a few days ago. The poem about Nazi Germany comes to mind: First they came for the Idaho farmers, and I said nothing because I didn’t live in middle-of-nowhere Idaho. Then they came for the guitar owners, and I said nothing because I didn’t own a guitar. Etc. By the time I think it affects me directly, it’s way too late to stop the government from turning into what it is turning into.

         c — Again, even if neither of those things were true, the government isn’t just (on my view) already too big; it’s (objectively) getting bigger over time, which means that it’s only a matter of time before you think it’s too big, too (again, unless you are actually a Communist and no size is “too big”).

    4 — I sympathize with your desire to protect the environment, but it’s not clear that there are any limits to the government’s power under your theory of government. Abortion activists say “keep your laws off my body”; homosexual activists say “stay out of our bedrooms”; and yet the federal government (already, now) claims the right to tell me what kind of light I can use to read in the privacy of my bedroom and what kind of milk I can put in my body (which is even less defensible in that it doesn’t even rest on your environmental theory). It seems to me that if any protections of our liberties or any limits on the scope of the government’s power can be overriden by concerns for the environment (as defined by the people wielding the power!), then they are in effect no protections or limits at all.

  5. Snoodickle Says:

    I thought this was supposed to be a slow post full of independently thought out ideas. It seems as if everyone is responding to my comment!

    • It’s true. I said it was experimental! You were the only person who submitted a comment during the blackout “slow” period. (No one submitted a proposal for structural reform.)

      Now that the waiting period is over, of course, people are free to comment on others’ comments at normal speed.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Hmmmm. It would appear that people are more interested in my ideas than the posts you make on this blog. I am not among them of course (although I am interested in my own ideas), because I actually took the time to respond to your post. Nice work Tevyeh and Babble!

      • You can’t criticize Tevyeh and Tower of Babel for not submitting ideas for structural reform in response to the original prompt—neither did you!

      • Snoodickle Says:

        True, but I don’t want structural reform. I played devil’s advocate and defended the status quo, which is just as relevant as submitting a proposal for reform.

  6. […] what she was saying sounded almost word for word the same as what I had heard another liberal argue not long ago:  “I would define government as when we come together to accomplish things.”  Ah! […]

  7. […] an idea for structural reform (though not structural in the same sense as, say, repealing the Seventeenth Amendment), prompted by […]

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