Government is a requirement for the development and maintenance of civilization. A civilized society cannot develop without a government that can keep a reasonable level of order by providing and enforcing a legal system and providing for the common defense. Two of the most crucial characteristics of government are, 1) what does government see as its primary purpose, is it to provide for the common good of all the citizens, or is it primarily to benefit a small privileged group, and 2) does it try to limit most of its activities to those services that are most essential for government to provide and that only it is capable of providing, or does it try to spread its control into a great many areas which can be better dealt with by private industry and voluntary associations or at a lower level of government?
Government has no reliable way of measuring the effectiveness or success of many of its activities, particularly in the area of social policy. Government social programs often undermine habits of individual responsibility, and foster dependency and dysfunctional behavior. Transfer programs, as they grow, produce two additional pernicious effects. 1) They create a constituency of beneficiaries that makes it politically difficult to reduce or eliminate the program. 2) The sponsors of the program invariably double down, claiming that all that is required for success of the failing program is more money. The more dysfunction the program produces the greater the resources needed to deal with it. The program creates its own growth.
There has rarely been a major federal transfer program (social policy program) that has not ended up costing many times its original cost estimates. The proponents typically fail to account for the power of incentives embedded in the program to radically change people’s behavior (they ignore potential second and third order effects), and they use misleading projections of what it is expected to cost because they want to minimize the opposition to the legislation’s passage.
People always respond to incentives. If government incentivizes people to collect unemployment benefits by making them available for extensive periods there is a disincentive to seek work. It takes a greater number of job openings to reduce the un-employment rate to a given level when unemployment benefits are extended.
Entry level jobs often pay little more than available government benefits but they lead to higher pay jobs. If people are incentivized not to take entry level jobs they lose the opportunity to move up the economic ladder.
Government generally is relatively inefficient because: It typically costs the government more to perform a given service than for that service to be delivered by private enterprise. Political considerations often lead to gross inefficiencies, particularly with public employee unions. The government’s real primary objective in conducting an activity is often quite different from delivering the best product or service at the lowest cost – see public education for example, where the actual primary objective is the welfare of the teachers unions’ members, not the stated one of delivering the best educational product at a reasonable cost. Countless government operations are performed more for political reasons than for accomplishment of the purported objective. Also, Government employees are paid about 1/3 more than employees in private industry for equivalent jobs.
The cost/price/profit relationship is a wonderful measuring device – it is a reliable measure of whether a business organization is a success or a failure, and if a success it measures the degree of success. When government is able to establish and enforce a fair and reasonable legal system this cost/price/profit relationship leads over time to tremendous enhancement in human welfare and has historically been the great engine of growth in human material wellbeing. The key is for government to have a fair, consistent and reliable legal system that does not provide political cover to certain politically well-connected enterprises allowing them to gain competitive advantage through government legal protection (either through regulation that favors them and handicaps their competitors), or through direct or indirect subsidy.
Because government usually has no reliable measure of the effectiveness or success of its activities, it is important that it resist doing those things that can be done by for-profit enterprises, voluntary organizations, individual initiative, etc.
Since there is usually no reliable way to measure the value or effectiveness of a particular activity, government artificially establishes criteria by which it measures itself. Often such criteria are counterproductive, as in the case of welfare case workers, and/or welfare offices, who are rewarded for increasing their caseload. For most government agencies, divisions and sub divisions, the most critical test is whether they fully spent their budget for that year. If not, their budget will be cut the next year. The more they spend the more successful they are seen to be and the more power they have. Obviously the incentives here are horribly misaligned, but it is an inherent problem of government agencies.
People who work in government bureaucracies are not more altruistically inclined than the rest of us; they have a tendency to want to manage other people’s lives. Those who work in regulatory agencies see their role almost wholly from the perspective of the importance of enforcing the regulations, irrespective of whether they fit the particular case, are consistent with practicality and common sense, or needlessly handicap the regulated.
The people who work in government bureaucracies often have a tendency to view the main purpose of the private sector as providing tax revenue for the government. Especially in the regulatory agencies the tendency is to view the businesses they regulate as their opponents who are trying to skirt the rules. This is especially the case with smaller businesses. With huge enterprises the regulators often become captured by the companies they regulate who manage to get them to rig the rules to their own advantage by making it more difficult for their potential competitors. Large companies have a tremendous advantage over smaller competitors in a heavily regulated environment because they are more easily able to fund the bureaucracy to manage the regulations.
Most government workers are natural allies of the Democratic Party because it is the party of big government and the more government expands its control over more activities the more important their jobs.
Since Civil Service rules protect most federal government employees, a new administration can change only a relatively few jobs, just those at the top levels, so the great majority of government employees, even in Republican administrations, are sympathetic to the goals of the Democratic Party and are able to undermine most attempts to shrink the size and scope of their activities.
Charles Krauthammer quotes
“The trouble when people stop believing in God is not that they thereafter believe in nothing; it is that they thereafter believe in anything. In this century, ‘anything’ has included Hitler, Stalin and Mao, authors of the great genocidal madnesses of our time.”
“Religion–invaluable in America’s founding, forming and flowering–deserves a place in the schools. Indeed, it had that place for almost 200 years. A healthy country would teach its children evolution–and the Ten Commandments.”
“The greatest threat to a robust, autonomous civil society is the ever-growing Leviathan state and those like Obama who see it as the ultimate expression of the collective.”
“Liberals believe that human nature is fundamentally good. The fact that this is contradicted by, oh, 4,000 years of human history simply tells them how urgent is the need for their next seven-point program for the social reform of everything.”
“You can have the most advanced and efflorescent cultures. Get your politics wrong, however, and everything stands to be swept away. This is not ancient history. This is Germany 1933.”
“Politics is the moat, the walls, beyond which lie the barbarians. Fail to keep them at bay, and everything burns.”
“Europe can eat, drink and be merry for America protects her. But for America it’s different. If we choose the life of ease, who stands guard for us?”
“International stability is never a given. It is never the norm. When achieved, it is the product of self-conscious action by the great powers, and most particularly of the greatest power, which now and for the foreseeable future is the United States. If America wants stability, it will have to create it.”
“Two decades ago, however, socialism and communism died rudely, then were buried forever by the empirical demonstration of the superiority of market capitalism everywhere from Thatcher’s England to Deng’s China, where just the partial abolition of socialism lifted more people out of poverty than ever in human history….”
― Charles Krauthammer, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics