If we ask government to do less, it will naturally shrink. I keep returning to this basic idea of Richard Cornuelle, who dedicated the bulk of his life to spurring private, non-market-based competition with government. The John Locke Foundation’s mission is to “transform government through competition…[and establish] a better balance between the public sector and private institutions of family, faith, community, and enterprise.”

Cornuelle concludes his his final book, 1983’s Healing America,

In the end,  a good society is not so much the result of grand designs and bold decisions, but of millions upon millions of small caring acts, repeated day after day, until mutual action becomes second nature and to see a problem is to begin to wonder how best to act on it.

Getting from here to there takes millions of small decisions. Those small decisions rest heavily on whether we expect others to share in the burden. Marc Isaac and Douglas Norton have found in their research that early cooperation begets more cooperation in providing social welfare, but early free-riding leads to a spiraling up of demands for taxation, free-riding, and distrust.

Two reassuring findings stand out. First, deliberately forming local communities of trust can increase cooperation and reduce demand for taxation. Second, individuals acting in a positive way can affect the voluntary action of others.

Elinor Ostrom says the goal of public policy should be to “facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humanity.” I’m not sure government can actively foster trust among individuals, but it can remove barriers that keep people from trusting one another.