How Much Government is Enough?

How Much Government is Enough?

We often hear people calling for smaller government. On the surface this sounds appealing to many people. After all, government is known for its cumbersome systems and burdensome bureaucracy.

What does it really mean to have a smaller government and what is the right amount of government?

To understand, its good to look at the role that government serves. In any society, government is the means for creating order. Without government there is chaos. Communities that have failed governments are known for their violence and abuse of the people living in those communities. They often produce high levels of immigration. For instance, Venezuela was once one of the richest countries in South America and is now plagued by hunger and violent crime[1]. As the state or government of Venezuela failed, people began to leave out of fear. Healthy government is absolutely essential to a healthy society.

So, we need government and we need a healthy government, but what is the right amount of government? In 1776, as the country was developing its founding documents there were ferocious debates about how much government was good government. The first governing documents of the United States were the Articles of Confederation. They created a weak central government that ultimately failed to provide the stability the country needed to operate. A group came together to create the Constitution, but they were divided. The Federalists wanted a stronger central government, the Anti-Federalists wanted a smaller, weaker central government in order to keep most of the governing with the states. A good way to learn about the arguments of the Federalists is to read a series of articles called the Federalist Papers that were written at the time the Constitution was being ratified.

This dialogue about the role of federal versus state governments still continues into today. It is an important dialogue. Our country relies on a model of shared power between the federal government and the states.

It is also important to recognize when the call for smaller government is being used to disrupt our government, rather than to strengthen and protect it. More and more often these days it feels as though the call for smaller government is actually an attack on our governing system, on our Democracy! If our Democracy is to be strong, we must have a healthy government. The Articles of Confederation failed because they did not allow for a healthy central government. The Constitution succeeded because it did. It allowed representational democracy to flourish. This is our model of government that we believe in.

In recent years it feels like our government has been under attack. Rather than fighting for the institution that has provided 230 years of stability (even if it wasn’t perfect stability because there was much wrong in the past that needs to be addressed), it feels as though lately we have been working to eliminate the very thing that provides for us a voice and a chance to create a stable society.

So what makes for a healthy government? There are a few things we can look for:

  • The opportunity to take part in the democratic system, to vote and speak to your representative
  • A balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community
  • A protection of individual rights – human rights and civil rights
  • A freedom from corruption
  • Representatives that our responsive to the communities needs
  • Healthy systems that make our country strong, health care that is accessible for all, education for all, transportation systems, etc.
  • And yes, the money to make the system work. That means taxes are a part of creating a healthy system because they provide the resources needed for that system. Lack of taxes are part of what took down the Articles of Confederation.

These are just a few things that have helped the United States of America one of the longest existing governments in the world. So, when you hear for demands of smaller government, ask whether these demands are really helping to create a stronger government. Do they recognize the importance of government? Do they promote the healthy balance between federal and state government? Are the demands seeking to strengthen or destroy our Democracy?

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/11/14/venezuela-a-failing-state

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