Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Coherent Argument for Smaller Government

Those of you who read this semi-regularly may know of my mixed feeling on, but always appreciation for, Niall Ferguson.  I often finds his snippet arguments too pedantic to be useful - they are more apt to be intentionally controversial.  ON the other hand, I find his long form non-fiction words to be excellent.
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I recently read something that falls in the middle, and I highly recommend it (although it has probably been out a while).  It is a short non-fiction titled The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die.  It is a short read, and I challenge you to read it.  I have a copy and will loan it out if you send it back.
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Here is the amazing thing - it is thought provoking and introduces some new ideas to an old liberal like me.  It will challenge almost anyone.
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There are the bits that I totally agree with, and I assume that Republicans will not - how we have become a Nation of Lawyers instead of a Nation of Laws.  With one set of rules for the rich and another set for everyone else.
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How big money has distorted Democracy and reduced participation.
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And then there are bits that I didn't think I would agree with, but he makes some great points.  For example, how our "Public" education through High School was designed for a different age and hasn't adapted.  (We educated our children excellently for the Industrial Age - but not so well for the new age - whatever it is.)
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How a Public / Private system has produced the greatest Universities in the world but how a public monopoly of grades K thru Secondary hasn't produced the results we want.  He might be wrong, or have odd ideas of how to fix it, but they are discussion worthy.
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But the biggest revelation for me was his main premise (and I am sure I don't do it justice) that the Institutions that made this country great - PTAs, churches, Rotary Clubs, Garden Clubs, Libraries, Masonic Lodges, down to barn raisings, sewing circles and the other formal and informal organizations  - have decayed and atrophied.  And the decay is caused in large part due to the Big Government taking over those functions.
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Mr. Ferguson does an excellent job of convincing me that as the government grows in scope and interests, it crowds out local institutions; therefore, people depend on the government more.  And that dependency leads to a cautious, "stationary" country - where opportunities, investments and the future are seen to be in finite supply.  And more and more time, money and effort is spent staying where we are than breaking out of our cycle.
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As I said, agree or disagree, it is the first coherent argument I have heard for a smaller government that does less.
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Sure, there is a massive issue with how we got here and if we can reverse it.  Throwing people off food stamps, dumping Medicare, rolling back arbitrary education standards can't all be done at once.  Every program was done for a reason - but we all agree that some have grown too large.  (Food Stamps or Aid to Mega-Farmers - everyone would disagree with one program or the other).
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Check it out, it is a thought provoker.  And it made me rethink some long held ideas.

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