Government Is Too BigThe government is increasingly cut off from reality.
by T. J. Nelson
by T. J. Nelson
ome commentators have speculated that America would be have been better off if it stayed part of the British Empire. The general idea is that we might have abolished slavery earlier and thus avoided the Civil War. We would have entered WWII earlier, possibly prolonging the survival of the British Empire. Both are certainly desirable outcomes.
But there's a down side as well. We would have missed out on the burning of Washington, D.C. in 1814, almost 200 years ago. I don't suppose the British would mind coming back. Where are those Redcoats now that we finally need them? What a great way to celebrate the 200th anniversary!
It's tempting to wish for someone from outside to solve our problems in such a dramatic way. But the problem we face now is no less real: the two-party system has stopped working. The Democrats have shown absolute commitment to their goals of income redistribution, micromanagement of the economy, and almost totalitarian control of everything we do, say, eat, and think. The Republican party, having abandoned its belief in small government, is ineffectual as an opposition party. Its actions consist largely of expressing mild disapproval and gently dragging their feet on the Democrats' statist initiatives. Despite the sometimes hysterical reports from the news media, both parties are really working together to increase the size of government.
As a result, our government has gone out of control. It spies on us by monitoring our phone calls and tracking our Internet traffic, and quite possibly monitors other aspects of our behavior that we still don't know about. It had, for a time at least, taken de facto control of much of the auto industry, and is in the process of taking over our healthcare industry. It harasses anyone who opposes its policies with selective prosecution and tax audits. It is even setting up an informant network to facilitate this harassment.
Our security agencies are full of people who are dedicated, patriotic ... and by all accounts, really good listeners. But they too are cut off from reality. It's easy for them to forget that they are a part of the government. Despite their good intentions, if they violate the Constitution, it inspires fear and mistrust.
In a way it's ironic. We complain about the government never listening to us. Now that they do, we complain about that, too.
We have such a vast library of rules and regulations that no one can know from one moment to the next whether they are breaking one of them. This fact alone gives the government enormous power. If they want to get you, they can always find a law somewhere that you have broken. There is no way the average person could ever hope to learn them all, let alone get them removed from the books. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are so many laws that even the Justice Department gave up trying to count them. The best estimate before they gave up was 23,000 pages in 50 volumes. Other estimates range even higher.
This doesn't count state and local laws, Federal regulations, or the vast ocean of case law, which has a strong influence on how cases are decided. Estimates of the number of Federal regulations, according to the article, range from 10,000 to 300,000. The laws are so complex that even those who pass them often have no idea what's in them. Yet they control almost every detail of your life, from what kind of milk you're allowed to buy to who you are required to hire, and what you must pay them.
Most people have trouble remembering the ten commandments. There can be little justice and no respect for the law if people have no way of knowing what is illegal. Their only recourse is to keep their heads down, act like sheep, and try not to attract attention. Both parties have contributed to this problem. The fact that there are only two parties severely limits our ability to solve it.
The government is us, says Barack Obama. For many citizens, it no longer feels that way. The government is becoming them. It may be tough to hate an organization so cut off from reality that its members proposed setting up a national park on the MOON. But disenfranchisement of voters is no joke. Bad things can happen when people consider the government to be a threat to their livelihood and their deeply held values, and when they come to believe they have no other way of changing it. Americans may be, as foreigners think of us, selfish, fat, stupid, lazy, obnoxious, ill-educated, and sloppy dressers, but we are still the most flexible and most open to radical change of any people on earth. If the economy collapses, or if the government does something foolish, just about anything could happen, from a violent civil war to a breakup into 50 smaller countries.
One solution would be to create a third party. Unfortunately, that's extremely difficult. A two-party system is written into our Constitution: any new party would have to eliminate an old one, and so it would automatically gravitate back to the center. That's apparently what the Founders intended. The goal was to prevent rapid changes in direction. But when both parties stand for the same thing, or when one party rolls over and plays dead, changes in direction stop altogether. With no opposition, and with no meaningful debate, the government will just keep moving mindlessly in the same direction until it leads to disaster.
People will always take the easiest path. They will see a need for change only when there is no choice, no way to go with the flow to live their lives. In general, when a government gets bigger, more and more options are blocked simply because it has a greater chance of getting in their way.
We need to reorganize and simplify our legal system. We also need to find a way to transition from a two-party to a multi-party system. A parliamentary system would prevent situations like the one we have now, where both parties stand for the same thing. When they do, the two parties define what is “mainstream,” and anyone outside of the mainstream has no voice. We need all viewpoints to have a fair chance at representation. Unfortunately, the two-party system is deeply embedded in our Constitution, and it is heading us toward disaster.
The nature of government is that it has the right to do any kind of violence against its people, whether bankrupting them, imprisoning them, or killing them outright, that it deems necessary. Citizens are uniquely vulnerable to their own government because they can't escape if it changes from protector to aggressor. Yet our security agencies, seemingly as cut off from reality as the would-be Lunar Park Rangers in D.C., can't imagine why Americans would feel threatened and become mistrustful when they vacuum the ether and record all our movements and actions and, quite possibly, our conversations, for possible harassment and prosecution under any of the uncountable number of laws we are required to know about and obey.
When a government finds itself in a major crisis, the question of whether the people trust their government can decide the outcome, as the Soviet Communists discovered to their dismay. Trust is squandered when the government deceives and persecutes its citizens, as the American government is now doing. A government that interferes in the ability of its citizens to make a living, deliberately loses every war that it starts, lies to its people, consumes and destroys a large fraction of the nation's wealth, and mismanages every task assigned to it will gradually lose the loyalty of its people. Eventually, some people will think about pressing the famous “reset button.”
Maybe the British won't take us back. But if the Redcoats do decide to come back, there are more people now than ever ready to give them directions. The rest of us will just keep our heads down, hoping that day never comes. But we're a generous people. There could come a day when we will say: we have some spare matches, old chaps, if you need them.