Niklas’ has some thoughtful comments about taxation and how he struggles to communicate the desire for less but better government, and it has me thinking about, in a very broad sense, what I want, and why what I want creates an internal struggle. This is a fairly rambling, possibly incoherent, jumble of thoughts, as a struggle is wont to be.
Like Niklas, I too want “smaller” government that is more efficient, but there are areas where on the margin I want “more” government if it is efficient. Smaller and more are in quotation here because unlike efficiency, these are tricky and sometimes inconsistent notions. A minimum wage requires no actual change government taxation or revenues, in contrast to the earned income tax credit. Yet in reality it functions are a tax on one group of businesses for a subsidy to one group of workers. In which case is the government “smaller”? But I digress….
My point is that I’d like in some cases more government, like a carbon tax, but I’m also not okay with that being used as a revenue prop for the status quo of way-too-inefficient policies that we do have. I’d like the government to spend money efficiently subsidizing and incentivizing effective early childhood education, but can’t bring myself to let government take more money and become a larger player in education until they stop doing the things they already do so poorly.
I think in the whole I would be comfortable with a fairly large amount government spending that was efficient and effective. In part I’d be ok with this because in the long-run, my small fantasy is that a successful government should make itself less necessary. If we got early childhood education up through high school working really really well, I think government would be able to roll itself back significantly in a lot ways, from prisons to welfare. With efficient and robust safety nets and a dynamic and healthy economy we could arrive at a place where who are poor are very likely to have chosen such a state, and so we don’t have to have the impossible, expensive, and sisyphean task of preventing all poverty.
Some, perhaps much, of this, I understand, is wishful thinking. I think one measure of how liberaltarian versus libertarian you are is the extent to which you think my vision of good government is a possibility. I shift along this spectrum. Another difference, of course, is whether this vision, possible or not, is even desirable. Here, I am more firmly in the liberaltarian camp.
The libertarian part of this liberaltarian vision is the fact that a required first step to good governance is having a government that can stop doing things it very clearly should not be doing. Even good governments make mistakes, and if they can’t back out of them that provides a serious problem to the sort of effective government vision I’ve laid out. I am very skeptical of our governments ability to do this. Likewise, there are far too many people who want the government to be things that I think are incompatible with effective governance, like a middle class jobs program, and a guarantor of universal safety in everything we do.
So despite the progressive vision of government I’ve said I would be happy with, I remain in the short-run more interested in seeing government be, in the main, “smaller” rather than “larger”, whatever that means. You might confusingly sum up my position as wanting a small government now, so that we can have a large government going forward that makes a large government in the future unnecessary.
Clearly, I am with Niklas in having a hard time expressing exactly what it is that I want here.