The problem with government

In the 2012 book, First in Freedom, Transforming Ideas Into Consequences for North Carolina, published by the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, Chairman John Hood wrote the final chapter—North Carolina 6.0: A new operating system for state government. Mr. Hood produced a scholarly, yet practical, work describing the colonial political history of this State, with a summary of the evolving State government, how it operates, and suggestions on ways it could be improved. Hood presents us with several thoughts for commentary.

With all due respect, in my humble opinion (based on some experience in sparring with these Leviathans inside and out of their lairs), I don’t think governments can be better organized to limit their intrusions on our economy and liberties; they must be tethered and defanged, severely subordinated in scale to the resources and freedom of private citizens. Although Hood has made many good suggestions for internal functional efficiencies, re-arranging the deck chairs in Raleigh or Washington will not bring these massive ships-of-state back on course.

I cringe when people say, “We have to make government operate more like a business.” (Wisely, Hood didn’t suggest that.) Why not?—because government operates by police-power authority; not by peaceful voluntary contractual relationships between consenting parties that benefit both, as does business.

Government bureaucrats have no incentive to provide business-like service to anyone; their jobs are established to control people—to assure that others comply with law and regulations—and pleasing higher-level bureaucrats, rather than “customers,” protects their positions.

Our elected representatives have virtually unlimited authority to make laws and allow agencies to establish arbitrary rules to be enforced; the people rarely have any say. Officials become advocates of the bureaucracies they administer not the people they are supposed to represent. For example, local politicians in North Carolina are largely controlled by the powerful League of Municipalities and city and county “managers.”

Political operatives do not represent “the People”—their allegiance is to interest groups and themselves; government “by the people” is nice-sounding theory, but it functions only superficially. I’ve learned to live in the real world and I’m skeptical of government. I don’t like to be cynical, but historical evidence overwhelms the illusion of belief in a benevolent, or even a benign, state.

Mr. Hood believes that citizens of this State “embrace change.” Historically, he says, North Carolinians have been proud that the cost of government has been low, the value of State services has been high, and the growth of its economy has been strong. But those conditions do not exist today. I agree.

That ended back in the 1860s when this State was forced by military rule to submit to an oppressive central government that overthrew the freely elected legislature–replaced with its surrogates. Even under so-called “conservatives,” government at all levels has continued to expand, cost more and increasingly intrudes in every aspect of our lives.

Hood argues that “the basic architecture of North Carolina’s government is sound,” but its operating system needs to be redesigned with a simplified organizational chart, clearer accountability, and checks on spending. I agree with the last two reforms.

In my opinion, drastically reduced spending is the only solution. But my cynicism says that is impossible; too many loud and powerful special interests now clamor at the public square. And we have too few principled elected officials with the courage to stand up to them—and too few voters who understand and care about the proper role of government.

Mr. Hood explains that the current State operating system costs about $52 billion a year using federal, state, and local funds. The State General Fund is financed with $20 billion in State taxes and fees. Obviously, this State could not sustain current spending without $32 billion in subsidies from other States—not to mention massive debt incurred.

The State of North Carolina, similar to most others, is essentially a welfare State: Half the General Fund is spent on government education and 25 percent more spent on healthcare and direct public assistance. The resources taken from citizens at large are distributed to government-favored groups: people with children; college students; older-aged people; low-income people; black people; disabled people, illegal aliens, etc. More and more interest groups using collective pressure demand “rights” and access to the earnings of others, freely offered by the political class benefiting with political power and generous pieces of the always growing public pie.

This may sound cynical, but it’s not a wild unproven theory, it is reality based on the record. Until we can elect majority, principled representatives who truly believe their laws and regulations and entitlements must apply equally to all the citizens and will resolutely stand against the shouting and demonstrating interest mobs we will never have just government.

John Hood’s concluding statement quotes the North Carolina constitution’s Declaration of Rights: “All political power is vested in and derived from the people; all government of right originates from the people, is founded upon their will only, and is instituted solely for the good of the whole.”

That can’t happen with an ignorant, selfish electorate and corruptible, compliant elected representatives. The only “reform” that will save us is a reformation of the statist nature of many citizens, and dramatic limitations on the size and scope of the overpowering coercive structure they demand. Changing the number of players and the furniture of state will not avoid a pending disaster.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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