A Short Sidebar on Politics

I read a good article by J.D. Tuccille over at LewRockwell.com just the other day. The author manages to concisely cut to the core of why small government is good and large government is bad. I spend a fair amount of time talking about, watching and writing about the consequences of a winner-takes-all political system on the future of medical research, human life span and health. These battles are so ugly and wasteful precisely because our governments have grown bloated, invasive and powerful.

However many camps there are, it's apparent that Americans nurse bitter disagreements and increasingly see political battles in terms of good vs. evil. In truth, despite Mr. Weiner's rosy outlook, government has so intruded into every nook and cranny of modern life that Americans have real reason to fear the outcome when their opponents control the levers of political power.

Take the controversy over gay marriage as an example. Politicians debate the merits of a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, but there's no real reason that marriage of any sort should be a public policy issue. New York didn't require marriage licenses until 1908 and many states that required licenses earlier provided for private alternatives, such as publishing banns.

Likewise, private ownership of firearms and personal use of marijuana were regulated by states and localities, if at all, into the 1930s. Entangled in federal law in 2004, guns and dope now serve as defining issues for many Americans, and can decide the outcome of elections.

Even Americans' mealtimes are subject to official scrutiny. The federal government is rolling out an advertising campaign to nag people about their eating habits, and some public health groups want to impose high taxes on so-called "junk food" to discourage its consumption.

Who can blame Americans for being at-daggers-drawn when marital arrangements and lunch menus are at the mercy of the victors in the next election?

Not to mention the medical research that will determine how long and healthy our lives will be. Big government means that multiple solutions to any given problem - and multiple answers to any given social question - can no longer coexist. One group wins an election and proceeds to force their rules, answers and solutions on everyone. There are real winners and losers, and the losers are increasingly unable to find alternative places in which to live their lives the way they want.

In many ways, we are suffering from global cabin fever: an ever-smaller world, coupled with a lack of new frontiers for expansion. In past centuries, those people who desired less government in their lives had workable options on the table. That is no longer the case (although groups like the Free State Project are doing their best to make a better world). As J.D. Tuccille puts it:

If high stakes explain the growing bitterness between America's political factions, the solution is clear: lower the stakes. Get government out of any area of human life where its presence isn't essential. Why wage electoral campaigns over the definition of marriage when you can get politicians out of the marriage business entirely and leave relations between consenting adults to the people involved?

There are enough divisive issues in which government can't help but be involved - such as defending the country against terrorism and invading countries that have nothing to do with terrorism - that we don't need to seek out new grounds for domestic conflict.

Shrinking the role of government won't make people stop arguing, but it will improve the chances that they can afford to lose an occasional argument.

Smart, and to the point.


A sign of the increased awareness of government's power over the citizenry is the increasing length of the campaign season. The opposing sides started campaigning at least a year before the election in the U.S. Commercials are already flying back and forth and it is only April. Just think of how bitter it will become in September and October. Voters (not so much the general populace) realize how much of their lives are controlled by the large central government. They errantly seek to manage this situation by trying to control the apparatus. A better solution in my view is to take the power away from the central government.

Posted by: Mind at April 4th, 2004 9:08 AM
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