WHAT IS JUST ENOUGH GOVERNMENT?

The following stems from a debate with sean samis at this post, YOU DON’T THINK THE NEWS MEDIA TRIES TO LEAD US AROUND BY THE NOSE?.

Some government is a necessity. Any people that does not feel safe in their person, liberty, and property is harried and poor. That’s why even a bad government is usually better than no government at all. Nonetheless, too much government is an awful problem. Here is why.

According to Milton Friedman, there are only 4 ways to spend money.

  1. You spend your own money on yourself. You care the most about how much you spend and what you buy.
  2. You spend your own money on someone else. You care about what you spend but you don’t care as much about what you buy.
  3. You spend someone else’s money on yourself. You don’t care as much about the money as you do to make sure you buy something nice for yourself.
  4. You spend someone else’s money on someone else. You care the least about how much you spend and what you buy.

The forth way to spend money is the least responsible way. You care the least because you don’t have a vested interest in either what you get or what it costs. The fourth method of spending is government entitlement spending. Controlled by people who really don’t have much of an interest in making sure the money is spent wisely.

The first way is the best for everyone. The first way has you actually spending your own money. Milton is trying to say, get more money in people’s hands because they will spend it the wisest. (from here)

Politicians live to spend other people’s money on other people. Friedman generously assumed politicians have the best of intentions, but as he observed, spending money that way is inefficient. Even we do not regard the moral implications as important, we still have a good reason to avoid the waste that comes from letting politicians spend our money for us.

So what must government do? We have to have government to resolve civil disputes, fight crime, and deal with rogue nations. At the same time, we must be wary of the pitfalls.

  • Civil disputes can involve anything from eminent domain matters to a property dispute between two individuals. Example pitfall: Because it seems like a good way to solve the eminent domain problem, we put government in charge of road construction and maintenance. Unfortunately, we have gone too far. We now give up our money before we even have a road. So we end up paying for roads we will never use. Because we have been too generous with our money, politicians now feel free to buy roads for other people with our money.
  • Criminal matters can range from murder to fraud. Example pitfall: If you are a lawmaker, you can make laws for “other people” and exempt yourself from the law. You can then do what for others would be a crime. Thus, Congress exempted from insider trading laws. Then some congressmen used their insider knowledge to profit on Wall Street (from here, here and here).
  • What dealing with rogue nations involves is preparing for war and fighting wars. What sustains a first-class military force is the high moral integrity of the people it defends. Example pitfall:  Because it buys them more political influence, politicians prefer to spend other people’s money on other people. That is because welfare and entitlements allow politicians to buy our votes with “other people’s money.” Unfortunately, welfare and entitlements are not just a waste of money; welfare and entitlements also threatens the moral integrity of our people. When a people becomes sufficiently decadent, they become unwilling to pay for or serve in the military that defends them.

Check out the Federal Budget. Only about 24 percent goes to defense.

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About Citizen Tom

I am just an average citizen interested in promoting informed participation in the political process.
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11 Responses to WHAT IS JUST ENOUGH GOVERNMENT?

  1. sean samis says:

    Tom;

    Changing the thread of this conversation risks losing track of what’s been said earlier; where you said that “When government does nothing more than what it is suppose to do, the government helps the people shoot thugs or throw them in jail.” Your new digression into spending seems to change the thrust of your argument.

    Your title phrase “just enough” implies a bias toward minimizing government. My point on the previous thread and here is to find the appropriate size of government, being neutral toward size. If I understand your position correctly, then you are searching for the minimum size while I am looking for the optimal size. Those are two different goals. The difference may be small, but it’s a real difference.

    Even if we accepted Friedman’s comments as true (which I don’t), they are far removed from the question of whether the only thing government should do is “help the people shoot thugs or throw them in jail.

    Also, Friedman’s comments would not make “government entitlement spending” inappropriate. We cannot say that government entitlement spending is unnecessary or inappropriate as a class; we’d need to look at specific items.

    At most, these comments merely reinforce the need for spending controls and auditing, but not for cancellation of all such spending. And they say nothing about whether government should limit its role to “helping the people shoot thugs or throw them in jail.

    I agree with getting “more money in people’s hands because they will spend it the wisest”; that’s what jobs-creation acts are for! And again, this has nothing to do with whether government should limit its role to “helping the people shoot thugs or throw them in jail.”

    Your three bullet points at the end don’t seem to matter much; misbehavior on the part of politicians is inevitable no matter how big or small the government. I don’t think the situation is as dire as you suggest. I don’t agree with your hyperbolic claim that “Politicians live to spend other people’s money on other people.” Some do, surely; but certainly not all. Just like other misbehavior, the best solution is to vote the bums out. If the majority disagrees with you and retains politicians despite their misbehavior, all I can say is “Welcome to democracy.

    • Citizen Tom says:

      Sean – Politicians don’t live to spend other people’s money? Have you looked at the size of the deficit? Have you considered Obama’s power grabs and his threats to seize more power?

      There are over 2500 posts on this blog, and more than a few cover the subject of limited government. So if you want to learn in detail what I think about government spending in some detail, that is really not a problem. However, I will happily summarize. What I advocate is a constitutional republic based upon the principles contained in the Declaration of Independence. Since at least half of the Federal Budget is spent without any constitutional authorization, I think we have problem. When the Supreme Court says the Constitution says things it obviously doesn’t say, I think we have a big problem. It says we lack honorable leadership.

      What about Friedman’s comments? Are they true? When the truth of Friedman’s comments is self-evident, I don’t feel any need to prove the obvious. Do Friedman’s comments render “government entitlement spending” ethically inappropriate? No. A foolish waste perhaps, but not necessarily ethically inappropriate.

      What does make “government entitlement spending” ethically inappropriate — other than the fact it has no constitutional basis? When government redistributes the wealth, that is directly contrary to protecting an individual’s right to control their own property. Given the defects in human nature, it doesn’t even make sense to give the same people who think they have the right to redistribute our property the responsibility for protecting our right to keep it and use it as we think appropriate. As you said, misbehavior on the part of politicians is inevitable. However, that conflict of interest is not the most pertinent problem. Redistributing the wealth is stealing. When government takes the property of group of people just to give that property to another group of people, that is stealing. Fancy words don’t change that fact; they just cover it up.

      Even programs like Social Security and Medicare are designed to redistribute the wealth. Private companies would never be allowed to set up these Ponzi schemes, but politicians too often exempt themselves from the rules they force others to follow.

      Anyway, I have noticed something. You have complained about what you regard as defects in the principles I have presented for limited government, but you have yet to provide any principles that we could use to determine the appropriate functions of government. Democracy? That just provides a method for selecting our leadership. It says nothing about how our leaders should govern.

      Would you like to explain what you think government should do and why? I look forward to considering what you have to say.

  2. sean samis says:

    Tom, I am aware of the size of the deficit. I am aware of things President Obama’s done which some people characterize as “power grabs”, but I think those are hyperbolic claims.

    You say that “at least half of the Federal Budget is spent without any constitutional authorization”; I am not aware of any spending done without constitutional authorization; perhaps you could mention one or two.

    You fret about the Supreme Court; that it “says the Constitution says things it obviously doesn’t say”; that’s disputable. What is not disputed is that the Framers agreed that the Courts are the ones who say what the law is. That’s their job; it’s the job the Constitution gives them.

    What about Friedman’s comments?” I really don’t agree with Friedman’s comments; they are simplistic comments about a complex situation, and rife with over-generalizations.

    There is no constitutional impediment to “government entitlement spending” as a category. If there is a specific instance of it you believe is unconstitutional, please mention it.

    Redistributing the wealth is stealing.” The Constitution expressly provides taxation power to the Congress; taxation is no violation of individual rights. The constitution expressly provides congress the power to decide what to do with the taxes it collects. They may decide inappropriately, but that’s not theft.

    Regarding the misbehavior of politicians, unfortunately, someone has to decide what things need government action, and that is the job of elected officials, who can in their wisdom defer to the advice of unelected experts, or even delegate some decision making to unelected officials they have a hand in selecting.

    Taxation is not stealing. Redistribution of wealth is not stealing. Spending taxes on worthy projects is not stealing. Hyperbolic claims don’t establish the crime.

    As long as the government covers the expenses of Social Security, it is not a Ponzi scheme. So far they’ve covered it.

    Tom, the only principles that can be said about how leaders should govern is to obey the law, act honestly and rationally, protect the people, and do the most good for the most people.

    Government is supposed to work the will of the people: the Government IS The People! So when you ask what government should do, the answer is “what would you do?” Everyone gets to answer that question for themselves, and government servants take their direction from the Will of the People. If there is no agreement, then government becomes paralyzed.

    Government should be pragmatic, open, honest, and fair. Government servants should be forbidden to receive any compensation not directly provided by The People.

    • Citizen Tom says:

      sean samis – Sorry about the delayed response. It took me awhile to write this post.

      http://citizentom.com/2013/01/12/the-seven-habits-of-hypocrites-for-secular-socialism/

      Don’t get me wrong. I am not calling you a hypocrite. To some extent, we are all hypocrites, but for the most part we have to judge ourselves.

      What I hope the post does is address some of your points. Just as the Jewish people learned about Moses’ Law from the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, we have been taught by hypocrites for secular socialism. Just as the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees served as poor examples, so too have the hypocrites for secular socialism.

      When I say the Constitution does not authorize much of the Federal Budget, I am asking you look for authority in the Constitution that authorizes Congress to spend our money on entitilement and welfare programs. When I say redistributing the wealth is stealing, I am asking you to explain the ethics. Even if the Constitution authorized Congress to redistribute our wealth (and it does not), what would make such an activity something other than stealing.

      Here a post I wrote showing that Social Security and Medicare are Ponzi schemes.

      http://citizentom.com/2011/06/20/when-will-we-admit-we-have-been-robbed/

      Just because the majority supports something does not make it right.Check out an article by Walter Williams.

      http://www.wnd.com/2009/04/94937/

  3. sean samis says:

    Tom,

    The Constitution was never intended to provide an explicit list of purposes for which tax money can be spent. Please show a constitutional provision or history supporting your claim that Congress needs a specific permit from the constitution for “entitlement spending” or “welfare programs”.

    The ethics of redistribution of wealth? Feed the hungry, house the homeless, care for the sick, educate the ignorant, these need ethical explanations? How odd.

    • Bob says:

      All of those things — feeding the hungry, housing the homeless, caring for the sick, educating the ignorant — can be done far better, at less cost, by the private sector. Government does an exceptionally lousy job at all of them.

  4. sean samis says:

    Bob;

    You are entitled to your opinion, but there’s no evidence that Government does a bad job at these tasks, much less evidence they do an “an exceptionally lousy job”. And even if they did, that would not make their efforts unconstitutional. Whether these programs are wise, and whether they are Constitutional are two distinct questions.

  5. Citizen Tom says:

    sean samis — I am not particularly bright. I just enjoy studying and reading, and I have had enough time to learn what I should have learned in public school, assuming the teacher unions wanted us to learn such things.

    Thus, with all due respect, I ask you to sit down quietly with the Constitution and read it carefully. The Constitution explains the structure of our government, and it enumerates the powers of each branch. Then consider what is the point of saying the Constitution doesn’t do what it plainly does do? Why would we do such a thing? I suppose we are just that gullible and that poorly educated. Moreover, as adults, few of us take the time to read the Constitution. We think of it as somebody else’s job, and we just believe what other people, the “experts,” tell us about it.

    Next browse the Federalist Papers. Here is an extract you may find particularly relevant. http://citizentom.com/2008/04/22/the-advantage-of-a-republic-over-a-democracy/
    Because they understood the danger of majoritarian tyranny, Madison and the other founders distinguished between a republic and democracy. Because a republic is a government with limited, circumscribed powers, it prevents the majority from abusing the rights of the minority.

    Consider your response to Bob the Bluebird. It is kind of you to allow Bob to keep her own opinion, but what makes you think you have the right to take and spend her money. You are in the majority? You know what you are doing and she does not? Those really are not very good reasons. Take off the pretty veneer; its stealing. Stealing is not ethical, and that is why the founders established a republic. When we can get away with it and think we have a good excuse, we have a tendency to abuse each others ‘rights.

    • sean samis says:

      Tom,

      I graduated law school from a moderately conservative institution, and did quite well in Constitutional Law. The problem is the mythology that you can just sit down with the Constitution and see exactly everything the government was intended to do. For instance: find the section of the constitution which gives the Courts the power to overrule Congressional enactments. There is NOTHING expressly on point. But the Framers clearly meant that to be; we know because they said so. Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803). We know that the Framers never thought they enumerated every possible and permissible congressional enactment.

      Tom, you know I don’t claim “the right to take and spend Bob’s money”. We were talking about the powers of Congress, remember? The constitution gives Congress taxing power. That’s the law.

      With respect to Bob and you, the Constitution does not bar taxation nor the spending of tax revenues for welfare programs. If there is an express bar or a case on point, please cite it. We all have the right to our opinions, but it’s the Courts who say what the law is. You’ll find that phrase (roughly) in Marbury (supra.): “It is emphatically the province and duty of the Judicial Department [the judicial branch] to say what the law is. Those who apply the rule to particular cases must, of necessity, expound and interpret that rule. If two laws conflict with each other, the Courts must decide on the operation of each.” (at p. 177-8) Just in case you are not aware, the guy who wrote that was John Marshall, it was at his funeral that the Liberty Bell broke. He’s a bona fide Framer. He was appointed to the Supreme Court by John Adams (another Framer). Jefferson (another Framer) was president when the decision came down. The “Madison” in Marbury v. Madison was none other than James Madison, another Framer. The court’s decision was widely acclaimed at the time (1803) as quite proper.

      You and I and Bob can argue about the law, the Courts say what the law is and that’s how the Framers wanted it.

  6. sean samis says:

    Tom,

    I saw this blog and just had to send you the link.

    http://www.empiricalzeal.com/2013/01/05/what-the-dalai-lama-can-teach-us-about-temperatures-below-absolute-zero/

    It’s interesting for two reasons; in past discussions about good and evil, you attempted to define evil as the absence of good, and compared it to cold being the absence of heat. If you read this blog carefully, you’ll see why that metaphor is not really accurate re. heat and cold; it’s unlikely applicable to good and evil. BTW, I’ve read other, more formal discussions of heat and entropy; this blog is right on the money. Don’t be put off by it’s more creative approach.

    Another thought in this blog; the so-called “Buffett Curve”. If a society consists of people like Warren Buffet, “Initially, when they’re poor, getting money makes them very happy. But as they get wealthier, the same amount of money doesn’t make them nearly as happy.” This is one reason income redistribution is fair: take a sum of money from a wealthy person, it will make them somewhat less happy, but they will still be very happy, give that sum to a poor or struggling middle-class person and they will become MUCH happier. So this transfer of wealth would, on the whole, increase society’s overall happiness! There are many other considerations with such “leveling” schemes, but this is an interesting one!

    • Citizen Tom says:

      sean samis — I am not sure what the spam filter disliked about this comment, but I had to dig it out. I guess I will have to review the settings again.

      As usual you provided much to contemplate. Unfortunately, work has me busy. Hopefully, I will have time to consider your thoughts appropriately and reply tomorrow evening.

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