September 03, 2015

Too big to fail: How much government is too much?

Tim BallRebel Columnist

The amount and role of government are central to the current US and Canadian elections. It is that basic on both sides of the border. The fact that very few people have any experience of less government complicates the issue. 

The US Founding Fathers discussed the question of how much government is appropriate and how much power it should have. They examined it at great length and with remarkable insight. They tried to build a system with checks and balances, but that is being sorely tested. The test is simple, those who want more government control against those who want less. Abraham Lincoln posed the question,

“Must a government of necessity be too strong for the liberties of its people or too weak to maintain its own existence?”

As Barry Goldwater advised,

“A government big enough to give you everything you want is big enough to take everything you have.”

It is clear Canada and the US are at the point made in an 1857 quote attributed to Lord Macaulay?

A democracy cannot survive as a permanent form of government. It can last only until its citizens discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority (who vote) will vote for the candidates promising the greatest benefits from the public purse, with the result that a democracy will always collapse from loose fiscal policies, always followed with a dictatorship.

The only role of a national government is to defend the nation and they were given the power to do what was necessary. During World War II allied nations that remained free from invasion saw their governments take considerable control. The point is people sacrificed almost every personal freedom for the war effort.

Income tax was introduced as a temporary measure to pay for war. Unfortunately, governments are like people and loathe to surrender a source of income and the power it provides. In England, control was extreme with the government controlling every need from the type and amount of food and clothing through the use of ration books. Some  rationing extended beyond the end of the war. I recall as a child the joyous year of 1952 when candies (sweets in England) were finally free of rationing.

While that marked freedom from extreme government control, it did not mark the end of the larger role government assumed. Income tax remained. In Britain, the Socialist government of Clement Atlee defeated Winston Churchill’s government within a few months of the war’s end. It was reasonable for the British people to desire a new form of life after the hardships and sacrifices.

The problem was the new government did not want to give up much of the power since it suited their political agenda of greater government control. Although the events in Britain were more extreme than elsewhere, almost every country emerged from the war with greater government control over many aspects of everyone’s life.

Canadians experienced a use of the power of a national government to take away individual rights when Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau claimed insurrection of separatists in Quebec sufficient to implement the War Measures Act. Many expressed concerns but to no avail.

The majority, frightened by kidnapping and murder, were relieved to have the government take charge.  Exploitation of fear and the desire for protection exists among the majority of the citizens and is why dictatorships invariably invoke an outside threat to take absolute control.

Eventually, the cost of servicing this bigger government brought a challenge. Leaders like Reagan and Thatcher led the charge against the cost of government. Interestingly, they didn’t tackle the questions about the role and extent of government in the nation and individual’s business. In fact, Thatcher’s failure to deal effectively with the social and economic fallout created by the reduction of government likely led to her defeat.

In the current US and Canadian elections, the question of the role and extent of government is central. All parties agree governments will continue to exist, they only disagree on the extent. The majority agree that communism with absolute government control and anarchy with no government control are not the answer. Beyond that, there is a great divide among the citizens about what should be in government hands and what should be left to individual citizens and private industry.

The fact that few citizens have any experience of life with a dramatically reduced government complicates matters. Listening to your fellow citizens provides a measure of the difficulty. They will complain about too much government and too many taxes, yet the same people say about a problem, “Why doesn’t the government do something about this?” Add to this the number of people, usually over half, who prefer not to have responsibility or to make decisions for themselves. They fit George Bernard Shaws assessment that,

“A government with the policy to rob Peter to pay Paul can be assured of the support of Paul.”

Like Paul, the 50 percent benefit from the government robbing Peter to carry out those functions for them. They are not disposed to surrender a lack of personal responsibility and the largess governments provide. Maybe the conundrum is characterized in G.K.Chesterton’s comment.

“The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.”

At no time since World War II has the question of the amount of government been more critical in US and Canadian elections. The question is complicated by the surrender of individual freedoms to a monolithic government for the common good of fighting a war. Now governments declare war on global warming and environmental degradation as the new threats demanding bigger government. It is an inadequate justification from any perspective, but as H. L. Mencken said,

“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.”

So we come back to the question Abraham Lincoln posed. It is a question that demands an answer, but few have experience of less government. They don’t know with any clarity or reason what should be public or private. However, we must be mindful of James Madison’s warning.

"Where an excess of power prevails, property of no sort is duly respected. No man is safe in his opinions, his person, his faculties, or his possessions."



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commented 2015-09-05 10:12:05 -0400
The optimal size of government is one that costs you no more than a weeks wages to pay for and has just enough resources to pave the roads, pay police and deliver mail but not run your life for you. The optiminal government views your earning/spending power and bank account as the social safety net.

In my lifetime I have witnessed at least 4 governments which created economic refugees. A Canadian diaspora to small-government provinces and the US – Every economic migration/displacement in the last several decades has been the result of governments acting outside their purpose and taxing their electorate into economic distress. Governments exist to protect individual civil and economic liberty – not to encumber these or act in their stead. They derive their authority from direct consent and consensus of the governed. No one asked government to burden their grandchildren with debt slavery.

Modern governing models in the west, based in large omnipotent government, have reached the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is essentially free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is reflective of the darkest periods of human history, the stage is set for rule by martinet force under the obfuscation of heavily controlled or manipulated consensus.
commented 2015-09-05 06:46:01 -0400
Daniel wrote: “I fear the Ontario government has reached a self sustaining cycle. Of those who vote, there are enough that work in government, for government or receive the majority of their income from government that they can elect the appropriate stooge who will see to their survival each and every time.”

Very true.
Public sector employment rose by 27,000 in August, contributing to a year-over-year increase of 67,000 or 1.9%. The public sector includes all employees in public administration, most employees in utilities, as well as some employees in education, health care and social assistance, transportation and warehousing, and other industries. While the number of private sector employees was virtually unchanged in August.
I.e.: Ontario 1,330,805 public sector
These are 2011 stats, wonder what the 2015 are.
commented 2015-09-05 00:21:51 -0400
“The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.” Sounds just like JT and Mulcair with this refugee issue.
commented 2015-09-04 23:39:54 -0400
Great Article! I love the quotes.
I fear the Ontario government has reached a self sustaining cycle. Of those who vote, there are enough that work in government, for government or receive the majority of their income from government that they can elect the appropriate stooge who will see to their survival each and every time. Perhaps not, I’m hoping it was Hudak’s terrible campaign last time that did it.
commented 2015-09-04 22:42:39 -0400
@ Vlad

I would caution against buying USD in any quantity for the same reasons. The US is in debt up to its ass too – if countries such as the BRICS and others start trading more and more in currencies other than USD the future for its value does not bode well. Americans might at last learn what we Canadians have know for decades – purchasing power of all paper currency is fleeting…
commented 2015-09-04 22:36:52 -0400
Well, once you sit down and think about the state of affairs, it doesn’t take a lot of intelectual energy to conclude that things just won’t be sustained. 1 in 5 working Canadians gets a pay cheque from one level of government or another; another chunk of the work force draws unemployment insurance or is on disability. Then, in the population at large about 16 percent are drawing OAS, another group relies on welfare, and every family with kids gets government cheques. You don’t need a calculator or an MBA to figure things out.

Ball is absolutely right to point out that a reversal is very unlikely – if for no other reason than the fact that, for the majority of Citizens, restrictions on freedoms and state confiscations are simply the norm. If you have been a chained circus bear all your life, you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about climbing trees and tasting honey.
commented 2015-09-04 17:03:27 -0400
It’s great that you think Tim is smart (such a Canadian thing to say – judging who is smart and who isn’t – like that’s going to fucking help).

Here’s what is going on in Japan – by 2018, Japan will cease to be a country as the BOJ has been trying to monetize (to pay debt) more than there are bonds – get it??? They can’t print in Japan anymore. This is really bad.
Have fun reading.

When you are done, have a read of this – the same problem in Europe (although they have a few extra years beyond 2018) –

If you have relatives (hint: these people are old) who were around in Europe during the currency resets, ask them how things went.

In short, if COMMUNIST PIG MULCAIR or STUPID FK TROODO get any sort of control, get into US Dollars fast. Avoid Canadian dollars at all costs. These two fucking animals will send Canada over the financial edge – Ontario and Quebec are already there – wonder why the CDN is now 75 cents???? The MSM provides the oil narrative, so you know that’s a fucking lie.
commented 2015-09-04 15:39:59 -0400
Wow, Lord Macaulay must have had a looking glass into the future because he pegged exactly what is happening right now.
commented 2015-09-04 00:04:41 -0400
Tim is one extremely smart guy!!!
commented 2015-09-03 18:36:55 -0400
Absolutely brilliant post! Thanks, Tim