Friday, October 14, 2011

Government: What Size Fits All?

I’m confused: We hear talk by Tea Party partisans and other conservatives about “big government,” but I’m not sure what they mean. Or if they really mean what they say.

People that know me understand I’m somewhat conservative politically, but I prefer to describe myself as moderate. The Bible says, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10), and I think that’s especially true in politics, regardless of party affiliation. So I doubt either the Democrats or the Republicans have all the answers to our nation’s problems. Even if they did, they’d probably manipulate them for their political advantage.

I understand gripes about the size and cost of government, but do we really want “smaller” government? For example, when hurricanes or earthquakes or tornadoes hit, one of the first questions asked is, “What’s the government doing to help?” Anxiety about the rise of global terrorism is checked by our confidence that “the government” is closely watching potential threats. (But we don't want them watching us.)

The stately U.S. Custom House in Charleston, S.C.
Driving along an interstate highway, when our tires hit a pothole, we grumble in frustration, “When’s the government going to repair this road?!” Should our community experience a surge in crime, we expect the police – essentially, the government – to do something about it.

If the U.S. Postal Service follows through on its proposal to reduce service, perhaps eliminate Saturday delivery – or even when factors delay normal delivery – many of us will complain about inadequate service by this quasi-government agency. We demand that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ensure our foods and medications are safe for consumption, and that the Drug Enforcement Agency rigorously uphold laws concerning controlled substances.

We want less government intrusion into our private lives, but expect the government to regulate who can get married to who, protect the lives of the unborn (as well as children already born), and safeguard us from hazards of tobacco smoke. We want government to protect the environment, pets and other animals, maintain our national and state parks, and clear our streets of snow.

The list could go on, but here’s the point: We apparently want less government, except when we want more government to protect, preserve or promote our personal interests.

I’m all in favor of increasing government efficiency. There’s an old saying, “Work expands to fit the time allotted,” and I suspect in many government agencies there are 50 workers where 30 could do the work just fine, or where instead of one person doing the work of three, four people are “struggling” to perform the work of one.

But if you had the chance, what governmental agencies and functions would you simply eliminate?

While we’re complaining about governmental intrusions we don’t like, and taxes we don’t want to pay, it might be good to do what God has commanded: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1) Like it or not, we're stuck with government. Unless, that is, you're a fan of chaos and anarchy. So we might as well make the best of it.

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