The False Choice Between ‘Big’ and ‘Small’ Government

Now that my sabbatical is over, I’m back to teaching four classes each semester, which means I’ll have a lot less time to research and write food politics blog posts. I’ll still be posting every Saturday (aside from January 30, when we won’t be doing a podcast either) but more often than not those posts will be links to things I think are worth reading, listening to, or watching, along with some thoughts on why I believe they might be worth your time. Which brings me to my suggestions for this week:

Shrinking government isn’t something I’m necessarily opposed to, but I think the focus on ‘big government’ vs. ‘small government’ often misses the point. What I believe most people really want is efficient, effective government. Sometimes, that means cutting bloated programs. But in other cases it might actually be better to increase government employment, salaries, and resources. As special interest lobbyists have grown more and more powerful, the ability of our government to independently assess and evaluate their claims has diminished. Whether you’re a libertarian concerned with crony capitalism or a liberal worried about income inequality, this is something that should matter to you. Below are two articles that flesh out this argument for investing in government capability.

Congress just doesn’t know enough to do its job well. Here’s why. 
An article from the Washington Post’s ‘Monkey Cage’ blog, where political scientists descend from their ivory towers and talk about real-world politics. The writing can sometimes be sort of stiff (I mean, what do you expect from academics?) but it’s rare that a week goes by in which I don’t find something very worthwhile there.

Members of Congress should get higher salaries
This is not from some lefty, mainstream media outlet but from the conservative Washington Examiner. One thing I’d add is that the author’s proposal to increase congressional salaries to $225,000 isn’t nearly enough. I’d like to see a system like they have in Singapore, where legislators earn close to $2 million per year.

One final recommendation. During the holidays, I try to remember to not only be grateful for all that I have, but to be aware that life is short and very precious. Not too long ago, Sam Harris started this excellent podcast episode with a short story that brought home this point in beautiful fashion. The story is only about seven minutes long – quite possibly the most meaningful seven minutes of podcast listening I did all year.

Happy Holidays!
Mike

2 thoughts on “The False Choice Between ‘Big’ and ‘Small’ Government”

  1. Both articles were interesting, but I’m still not so sure about salaries. They should be able to afford to live where they work, but what about the lifetime benefits they receive after serving? Maybe I don’t understand, but it seems to me that they get much better healthcare and retirement benefits than the rest of us. But, maybe we are also losing out because the people who run for office are often wealthy in their own right, which is limiting in itself.

    The second article made me wish you would interview Bruce Carlson from My History Can Beat Up Your Politics. He seems to have a really good take on how things work and the history behind them. I admire both of you, and I could see a very good conversation there. He recently reviewed David Priess, who was a CIA Briefer, and it was quite an eye opener. It makes me wonder if members of Congress could do something similar (if they don’t already).

    1. Believe it or not, I actually did have Bruce on the show a while back – it wasn’t a full-on interview, just a few minutes of talk so that I could introduce our listeners to his most excellent show. – Mike

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