Beware Too-Efficient Government
Over on the WPRI site, Ted Nesi is running a series of “Dear Mr. Chafee” essays by “five of the state’s smartest citizens.” I’ll admit that I’m a bit suspicious of his claim — inasmuch as I’m on the list — but Tom Sgouros, who penned the first in the series is surely among the more intelligent on Rhode Island’s far left. Of course, he therefore more clearly enunciates the error in progressive thinking:
… lurking under most of these issues is one big issue: the relationship between the state and the cities and towns. Our governments exist to provide a set of services we all need. The strange thing is how we think that having governments constantly at odds with each other is the most efficient way to deliver those services.
In the minds of Sgouros’s ilk, the American experiment in government — democracy, checks and balances, and all that — has either been proven a failure or perhaps should never have been attempted. To Sgouros, “governments exist to provide a set of services.” To the founders who signed the Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among Men” to secure “certain unalienable Rights.” The founders knew that a government empowered to be efficient was empowered to — and would surely find reason to — oppress.
What’s astonishing is that Sgouros cites evidence that ought to speak against centralization for just the opposite, using Central Falls as an example:
…would the mayor have made the bad decisions he made without seeing the state as a separate party able to bail him out …?
The only way increasing the centralized hand would decrease mayors’ inclination to pass bucks upward would be if the leaders of local communities weren’t elected by their communities, but appointed by the state. That is, if they were accountable to the state for their positions. The American experiment meant to make government accountable to the people, but in the name of efficiency, Sgouros has already discarded such notions. It shows in his terrible understanding of how democracy is structured to function:
… the forms of cooperation have to become part of the government, since a “system” that depends on the good will of this mayor or that governor isn’t a system at all.
I shiver to contemplate what “the forms of cooperation” might be, but I also shiver to think that voters actually believe that elected officials’ core motivation should be “good will.” Many do, of course, and many of them probably share Sgouros’s worldview. After all, he’s happy to rely on the good will of state legislators and leaders — perhaps a national technocracy — although that’s largely because he trusts his allies to control them.
What voters ought to trust in is the desire of leaders to stay in office and their realization that the people are empowered to remove them. The closer those leaders are to the people who can vote them out of a job, the more effective that mechanism will be. That those higher up the chain, at the state and national levels, have made a practice of bailing leaders out when they’ve failed as miserably as in Central Falls does not in any way suggest that centralized government will be more accountable.