We’ve talked about the problems inherent in “big government” around here for, well, ever. More government means more taxes (ie; “revenue”), more regulations and more of government trying to pick winners and losers. Rhode Island is a perfect example. Despite the myriad problems in our state, our politicians don’t like dealing with the root causes. Instead, they tinker around the edges and do things like propose new ways to “manage” our economic development or nibble at our pension problems. The real issues: high taxes, an unfriendly business environment and political insiderism go unaddressed. And apparently that is the way the Rhode Island electorate wants it.
Nationally, we seem to be headed in the same direction. Here’s John Hayward explaining how the enlargement and encroachment of government into our lives has led to politics “all of the time.”
The expansion of government replaces competition with coercion. Free people lack coercive power, so they must compete with each other for business opportunities. Customers must be persuaded. Employees must be attracted. It’s messy sometimes, and the process must be policed for theft and fraud, but it’s generally constructive.
Government power replaces all that with a simple, brutal, zero-sum equation: what you are given must be taken from someone else.
We see this in Rhode Island. We see this across the country. It has put a greater emphasis on being on the inside to carve out exceptions.
The regulatory process is corrupted by both ideology and special interests. Even when it avoids outright corruption, the process is expensive, because it’s not constructive the way private competition is. Wealth and value are lost through forced redistribution. It’s a smaller, poorer world, in which political influence becomes valuable currency. Your fellow citizens are not your competitors – they are your enemies. They become selfish plutocrats or lazy parasites. Their defeat becomes an occasion for riotous celebration.
Red vs. Blue is the larger game, but there are many smaller contests out there. And there are plenty of people willing to exploit the desires, and more importantly the fears, of various voting “blocs”.
[E]ffective political power requires solidarity – sizable groups of voters acting in concert, to press their common interests upon the State, whose officials in turn benefit from packaged electoral support. The best way to hold a large group of people together is to make them feel as if everyone else is out to get them. The most effective political adhesives are distilled from hatred and distrust. People who disagree with your agenda are “attacking” you or “robbing” you. How commonly do you hear dissent described in precisely those terms nowadays?
Hence, every election is “the most important evah!”
When the government controls everything, there is no constructive relief valve for all this pent-up tension. It all boils down to a “historic” election once every couple of years, upon whose outcome everything depends. They’re all going to be “historic” elections from now on. That’s not a good thing. It’s much better to have the freedom to choose your own collaborators on the voluntary journey to mutual prosperity. If you think they’re doing it wrong – if you don’t like the services they render, or the compensation they offer for your efforts – you can find other partners. It’s relatively painless, you don’t have to wait two years to make a change, and you’re not setting all the parameters of your life with every individual decision you make.
In politicized America, on the other hand, we’re asked to make hundreds of major life-altering decisions with a single vote… and many of those decisions boil down to our selection for the increasingly powerful office of the presidency: a decision we only get to make once every four years, choosing from only a tiny handful of plausible candidates – and that’s assuming the primaries are particularly lively. You might have noticed a good number of Democrats – from officials and pundits down to average citizens in social-media forums – making the case that the 2012 election permanently settled various issues, and demanding the other side meekly submit. One vote every four years, and if you lose, shut up and obey! That’s not a recipe for social harmony, especially since we know everyone currently espousing such views will instantly change their tunes ten seconds after the next election they lose.
Like in 2004, for instance? Regardless, we’ve all bought into the game.
Of course the character of this politicized nation is growing more sour. How could it be otherwise? We make too many decisions by voting for other people to make them for us. We communicate through force instead of persuasion – a one-way transmission of absolutes, rather than a productive exchange of ideas. Instead of actively testing and improving solutions to our own problems, we yell curses and shake our fists while waiting for political champions to emerge from Washington’s bloody arena, carrying the latest thousand pages of badly-written central planning as trophies.
Congressional representatives have always said some terrible things to each other, but it’s trickling down to infect the rest of us… and we’ve been maneuvered into a position where all of us stand to lose plenty, if “enemy” representatives win the latest high-stakes showdown.
Unfortunately, we’ve allowed government to grow to this point. It doesn’t look like it will shrink any time soon. Unless it collapses.