The Cycle Of Big Government; or Why Libertarians Should Care About Government
William Eggers and John O’Leary outline five reasons why libertarians should care about government:
1. Bad government leads to bigger, badder government. Today, only 23 percent of Americans trust government to do the right thing. At first blush, this would seem to be an encouraging statistic for those opposed to “big government.” After all, the less citizens trust government, the less willing they should be to give it big new responsibilities, right?
An important recent academic study called “Regulation and Distrust” shows that, paradoxically, the worse government performs, the more citizens demand greater government intervention. The authors’ explanation for this curious finding is that in societies where people distrust large institutions—whether government or big business—the demand for more regulation and for more government is higher, even when government is incompetent or downright corrupt.
They also list five historical examples of good governance and five examples of bad governance.
BILL MOYERS: Okay, they compiled the worst track record on jobs in decades. And they ended up with the worst stock market in decades. I mean, it was a decade of conservative failure. And yet, Obama’s their villain?
THOMAS FRANK: Think of all the crises and the disasters that you’ve described. And I would add to them things like the, what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. And the Madoff scandal on Wall Street. And, you know, on and on and on. The Jack Abramoff scandal. The whole sordid career of Tom DeLay.
All of these things that we remember from the last decade. I mean, some of them that we’re forgetting. Like who remembers all the scandals over earmarking, anymore? And who remembers all the scandals over Iraq reconstruction? All that, you know, disastrous, when we would hand it off to a private contractor to rebuild Iraq. And it would, you know, of course, it would fail.
Those things have all sort of been dwarfed by the economic disaster and the wreckage on Wall Street. But I would say to you that all of these things that we’re describing here are of a piece. And that they all flow from the same ideas. And those ideas are the sort of conservative attitude towards government. And conservative attitudes towards governance.Okay?
BILL MOYERS: That government is a perversion.
THOMAS FRANK: Government is– yeah, government is a perversion. And to believe that the federal government can be operated, you know, with all of its programs, can be operated well and do things that are good for the people, is, as you say, is a perversion.
And they look at someone like Barack Obama and it makes them seethe. Because that’s, you know, that’s what he’s trying to do. What conservatism in this country is about is government failure. Conservatives talk about government failure all the time, constantly. And conservatives, when they’re in power deliver government failure.
BILL MOYERS: Not merely from incompetence, you say, but from ideology, from philosophy, from a view of the world.
THOMAS FRANK: And sometimes from design.
BILL MOYERS: From design? What do you mean?
THOMAS FRANK: Not always from design, but often. The Department of Labor, for example, the conservatives when they in office, routinely stuff the Department of Labor full of ideological cranks. And people that don’t believe in the mission.
And the result is that it doesn’t– they don’t enforce anything. Towards the very end of the Bush-era, the Department of Labor had been whittled down. It was a shell of its former self. And at the very end of the Bush Administration, one of the government accountability programs did a study of the Department of Labor. And, I’m smiling, because it’s kind of amusing. It was like an old spy magazine prank.
They made up these horrendous labor violations around the country and phoned them in as complaints to the Department of Labor to see what they would do, okay? They responded to one out of ten of these, you know, where they called in as like, “Well, we got, you know, kids working in a meat packing plant during school hours. You know, can you, you going to do anything about that?” “No.” Or you look at something like the Securities and Exchange Commission. These guys are supposed to be regulating, you know, the investment banks, okay? Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, that sort of thing. These guys were so under-funded, and not just under-funded, but you had people in charge of it who didn’t believe in regulating Wall Street.
BILL MOYERS: So, they made the Securities and Exchange Commission a laughing stock, if you will. They really did.
THOMAS FRANK: Right. Well, there’s these horrible stories that came out. Once Bush was out, there was a study done of the SEC, as well. These people didn’t even have like their own functioning photocopiers, okay? So, we’re talking about the lawyers that are supposed to be protecting us from Wall Street. And they have to go stand in line at Kinko’s to do their own photocopying. And they’re going up against the best paid, you know, best educated lawyers on planet Earth, who represent the investment banks. And they’re supposed to be defending us.