Back in 2010, I posted a “word cloud” from a Gallup poll, which cited people’s reactions when asked to describe the federal government.
Then, quoting from a very funny Mark Steyn column, I explained last year that there is an inverse relationship between the size of government and its competence and efficiency.
…today’s bloated welfare state interferes with and undermines the government’s ability to competently fulfill its legitimate responsibilities. Imagine, for instance, if we had the kind of limited federal government envisioned by the Founding Fathers and the “best and brightest” people in government – instead of being dispersed across a vast bureaucracy – were concentrated on protecting the national security of the American people. In that hypothetical world, I’m guessing something like the 9-11 attacks would be far less likely.
In other words, government is far more likely to have a “reverse Midas touch” when it is too big to manage.
Robert Samuelson makes a similar point in the Washington Post. He writes about why the American people no longer trust Washington and concludes that government is too large to competently manage.
Since World War II, American government has assumed more responsibilities than can reasonably be met. Some are unattainable; others are in conflict. Government is, among other things, supposed to: control the business cycle, combat poverty, cleanse the environment, provide health care, protect the elderly, subsidize college students, aid states and localities. There are more. Most are essentially postwar commitments. As I’ve written before, government becomes almost “suicidal” by pervasively generating unrealistic expectations. The more people depend on it, the more they may be disappointed by it. …political leaders find it almost impossible to confront government’s over-commitment. They find it difficult to withdraw or modify promises previously made and programs previously created — to define what really matters and discard or shrink what’s secondary, outdated or ineffective. …the essence of our problem, which is being more rigorous about defining what government can and should do.
Samuelson doesn’t propose specific policies, but the obvious conclusion is that we should shrink both the size and the scope of the federal government.
That means entitlement reform, particularly if we want to control the size of government. But if we want to deal with the scope of government, it’s probably even more important to deal with the plethora of agencies, departments, and programs that comprise the “discretionary” parts of the federal budget.
I’ve argued that the first target should be the Department of Housing and Urban Development, but it’s a target-rich environment.
P.S. The “competence” argument for small government augments the “economic” argument for small government.