by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Americans have a sour view of the federal government. Just one-third of people think Washington is competent. The public thinks half of taxes collected are wasted. More people say “government” is the nation’s most important problem than say that honor goes to the economy, immigration or terrorism.
And Americans are right. The federal government is wasteful and inept, which is a huge problem because it controls so many aspects of our lives. Federal spending consumes more than a fifth of the nation’s income, and federal regulations infiltrate a multitude of state, local and private activities.
In recent years, big scandals have erupted at the Department of Veterans Affairs, Internal Revenue Service, Secret Service and other agencies. Federal auditors routinely uncover waste, fraud and abuse, and revelations about special-interest giveaways in Congress are commonplace. …
… Failure has always plagued the federal government, and in recent years, that failure has multiplied as the government has grown too big to be adequately managed or overseen. While politicians usually blame federal bungling on the other party, the reality is that the only way to reduce endemic failure is to downsize the government.
To understand the government, let’s look first at markets. Their driving force is voluntary exchange. Buyers and sellers pursuing their own interests engage in billions of transactions, which are mutually beneficial and thus create value. Markets generate cooperation between disparate people, and they thrive on diversity.
Government does not work like that. Rather than voluntary exchange, it relies on top-down planning and coercion. As a result, it does not know whether its actions generate value. Because it imposes policies by decree, there is no sure way to know that they make sense.