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The motivation behind limited government

Posted by Chance on August 2, 2006

I believe that politics and public policy has a certain duality to it. I like to call this a philosophical/empirical duality. That is, the validity of a philosophy of a certain political action will determine how effective that policy is. In other words, policies that are philosophically good, or sound, or whatever word you want to use, will also be very effective. Policies based on bad philosophies will end up being a disaster.

This could work two different ways. Look for programs, or lack thereof, that have worked in the past, and base other programs on them. At the same time, make sure that policies are ethical, that have moral means as well as ends. The morality of certain policies has been questionable, but they have been implemented anyway because they have been seen as a quick fix to a problem, but end up being disastrous later.

In an earlier post, I stated that libertarians and small gov’t conservatives should focus not on the morality of redistributing money, but on whether doing so is even effective. One thing that I believe the Cato Institute does effectively is argue small government ideals from a practical perspective, arguing that more government programs do more harm than good.

When I first delved into limited government ideals, I was, at the same time, reading the book Atlas Shrugged. This book is in a way, a thesis for the philosophy of objectivism, which argues that each man should work for their own highest good. Man should not harm other man, but at the same time, they should feel no obligation to help their fellow man. Of course, being a Christian, part of this philosophy is appalling, but I did agree with some of the ramifications in the political sphere, in that it led to a freer economy and elimination of huge entitlement programs, and it still influences some of my beliefs in supply-side economics (I never heard a formal definition of that term, but I think it means that the supplier of the goods sets the terms of production). It also, at the time, made me abhor the philosophy of redistribution. Although I didn’t reject the welfare state altogether, I did focus on the morality of people demanding money from other people through force.

However, this way of looking at things left me unsatisfied. I didn’t want to look at it as an issue of “my rights” or “you have no right to my money.” Not to say that there is anything wrong with that, but at the same time, I think a central point of Christianity is not to focus on our rights, or what is really “ours”, but to freely give what we have. Not that we shouldn’t stand up for the rights we believe in, but focusing on this as my main driving philosophy, as I said, left me unsatisfied. Then I approached it from a different angle. What form of government does, in fact, generally help people? What system is most advantageous for the underprivileged? Strangely enough, this took me back to limited government ideals. I had backed off my libertarian ideals for a while, but then I ran into sites such as the Christian Acton Institute and the far-libertarian Dr. Mary Ruwart (who is a bit extreme, but I like the way she presents her ideas on libertarianism and poverty) who argues limited government ideals from a different perspective. Their view is that a strong central government often gets in the way and makes things worse for the poor. Acton, especially, argues for the increased role of private charity in addressing problems facing the lower classes.

This is where I began to believe that a reduced government allows more room for an institution that can truly minister to people’s needs, the church. Really, any voluntary association, but the church especially, can minister to someone’s needs. I do not believe we should look to a secular government to solve society’s ills, and a huge government can get in the way of instititutions such as the church.

So, I began to look again to libertarian/limited government ideals, but this time, from a different angle. Not that I am the standard of altrustism or that that I have purely unselfish motives for a limited government, but I have ideals to which I can aspire. I believe in limited government simply because I do not think large-scale programs actually work in addressing problems of poverty, but that they make things worse. I believe the best way to address the problems of charity and welfare are through a free society, in which voluntary, and more powerful, institutions have more room to work, and in which it is easier for someone to make a living for himself or herself.

Edited about one hour after original post, I didn’t like direction last paragraph was originally taking, and wanted to bring the point home more.


3 Responses to “The motivation behind limited government”

  1. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    Believe it or not, I share some of your views on limited govt. That’s why my version of democratic socialism is DECENTRALIZED.

    Sometimes I think govt. size is the wrong question with which to begin. Not “how big is it?” but “how effective is it?” So we’re in agreement there although we come to different conclusions.

    In general, large-scale government bureacracies are inefficient and oppressive–but not always. For instance, I’d argue that the original Medicare Program, before the Clintonista nightmare of “managed care,” was extraordinarily efficient and accomplished much of its goal–and the goal was good. Once Clinton attempted to combine market forces and govt. with “managed care,” however, a paperwork nightmare ensued that increased time and money and lowered medical care.

    By contrast, a single-payer universal health care system such as Canada’s, in which the profit motive is removed from medical care altogether, would save billions in paperwork alone. Would someone be hurt? Yes, insurance companies. (My heart bleeds for them.) But everyone else benefits:

    1) The public is healthier.
    2) Earlier preventive care and treatment for the poor prevents them from using emergency rooms as primary medical care; lowers medical costs.
    3) Kids who are healthier from an early age learn better in school and have a better chance at a productive future, helping the economy, reducing crime, saving money on the back end. (The data on the Women Infants and Children, WIC, program in this regard is overwhelming.)
    4) Small businesses no longer have to compete with large businesses to provide health care benefits and this makes it easier to start small businesses.
    5) Major corporations eliminate their largest labor cost, health care, and thus are able to be more competitive abroad. This is why you are seeing major business leaders start to side with labor and others in calling for a single-payer government health care system that covers everyone.

    6)It costs more in taxes to fund such a system, but this is more than balanced out by how much of one’s income does NOT have to go for private health insurance, etc.

    So, here’s one example where I would say, look we need a large-scale govt. program here: well-designed and as efficient as possible, but this is one of the purposes for which this government was created, “to promote the general welfare.”

    Evnetually, on my blog, I will do a series on economic philosophies. I’ll save debating Ayn Rand or her economist disciple Friedman until then. 🙂

  2. Michael Westmoreland-White said

    Humor: You wrote on my blog about the Sabbath Economics Collaborative: “The SEC has an interesting perspective.” Well, I didn’t reply to that since I had forgotten that I had abbreviated this as SEC. So I just kept wondering what the Securities and Exchange Commission had to do with the rest of your comment!

    🙂 LOL. The brain, she gets a little slow as we move into middle age, you know??

  3. Chance said

    lol, actually, I was speaking about the SouthEastern Conference in NCAA football, you know, Tennessee, Florida, etc…

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