Bryan Griffin: The Government Grows By Design

Jun 12, 2019

The federal government is ballooning in size. Government grows itself by its very nature.

This is problematic for everyone, because the larger the government the greater the cost, the more people that become dependent on it, and the fewer rights and liberties we enjoy as citizens.

The Trump administration has taken aim at reducing the size of the federal government.

In January 2017, Trump signed an Executive Order that mandated federal agencies to slash two regulations for every new regulation put into place.

He later tweeted this figure: “In 1960, there were approximately 20,000 pages in the Code of Federal Regulations. Today there are over 185,000 pages.”

In April, Trump brought public attention back to this issue as he continued to issue mandates to federal agencies to trim down.

Not only do I applaud the administration’s focus and efforts on this issue, I believe that this could be one of those rare topics that enjoys bipartisan support. Both parties, if they truly want to pursue their values in government, should be concerned with stopping the unfettered growth of our government.

Over 2 million Americans currently work for the government. As an entity that’s nearly 22 trillion dollars in debt, that’s a good portion of our country’s livelihood on borrowed time.

And that’s just people drawing their paycheck from the government. What about people who draw government benefits? An alarming percentage of Americans rely on government assistance. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, we passed the halfway mark all the way back in 2012, when it was first recorded that more than half of the entire U.S. population draws some sort of government benefit.

I’ll repeat that – today, the large majority of our country’s population receive government benefits or money.

Based on your position on the left or right, you may agree or disagree with exactly how much government assistance should be available, but surely both sides can and should agree that the ideal is that as few people as possible are dependent on the government for their livelihood.

Government assistance is paltry, and is usually not structured with any incentive to reduce reliance upon it. Most of the incentive structures for government programs are backwards, which has resulted in the steady growth of the numbers of those who rely on government assistance, often for life. This cannot be the end goal we want to see our fellow citizens succumb to.

But think about it, why would the government ever get smaller? Four hundred and thirty five members of Congress and one hundred senators have full time jobs that consist of either finding new government programs to create or new government-based solutions to society’s problems.

Yet the government never does a good job at solving anything. If it did, people would be relying less on government assistance. And the poverty rate would be decreasing as welfare spending increased. The reverse is true and has been since the New Deal in the 1930s. Similar problematic trends between spending and stagnant or worsening performance exists with federal education standards, veterans care, environmental issues, the post office, Amtrak, and soon our own healthcare, should it become nationalized.

The government is so big and so bulky, that there’s no effective accountability to ensure money being spent solves any of the actual problems it is intended to solve.

Private businesses have a bottom line to meet when they approach a project, so they have no choice but to complete a task within budget and with demonstrable results. State and local governments, while they face some of the same design challenges as the federal government, at least have a smaller scope of focus in identifying problems and effective solutions. But the federal government has no such measures of accountability. By its very design, it will only ever be able to apply a borrowed band aid to any problem it is tasked with addressing.

So, let’s agree to diversify our approach as much as possible. We can shift the burden of providing education, environmental regulation, and welfare to more localized entities like states and local governments that can more readily keep their finger on the pulse of those relying upon it.

We can incentivize private business, nonprofits, consumers, and the market to also make provisions and provide safety nets through charities, good will, and consumer trends.

I’m not saying we scrap the federal system, but can’t we agree to reduce its burden and shift as many responsibilities as possible to other, more accountable entities, whenever possible?

If we can agree on that, we must insist on that. Few politicians will ever suggest a reduction in the size and scope of their power. Most get elected to “get to work” at expanding the role of the federal government and getting their name on the bill that makes it happen.

The Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 seem to have completely forsaken any thought towards a limited size of the federal government. They may be speaking towards ideals that voters want to hear, like provisions for the poor, healthcare for the needy, and a cleaner environment, but they certainly aren’t offering many options. To them it’s government or bust.

We can do these things, as a country. Better, more effectively, and with greater results. We must first be open to expanding the pool of solutions we draw from. And we must insist upon limits to the government, for the sake of the very ends we hope to achieve.

Bryan Griffin of the London Center for Policy Research is a lawyer and author who specializes in American policy in the Middle East.

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