With government, less can be more

There’s an argument to be made for the precept that government is best which governs least. 

There’s an existential role for governments to defend citizens from enemies foreign and domestic. There are times, too, when government is better suited to provide services in a collective fashion — paving streets and putting out fires, to name two obvious examples. In addition, government has a legitimate responsibility to maintain even playing fields to ensure equality and fairness under the law.

Otherwise, less could be more in allowing the greatest degree of freedom. That includes not only freedoms among individuals to pursue happiness, but also freedoms among businesses to pursue those endeavors that both result in profits as well as providing needed products and services. Private property and intellectual rights combined with at least less fettered exploration can result in remarkable discoveries that improve lives.

Nonetheless, the temptation persists to govern more. Forgetting for a moment the rhetoric in an election year, neither major political party seems particularly resistant.

Perhaps it’s one logical outcome of the election process. What politician campaigns to do less? To enact fewer laws. To bring fewer government dollars back to constituents.

Perhaps it’s a function of the governing process itself. It’s like the proverb: If your only tool is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail. Even with the best of intentions, the response can be disproportional.

The results can be costly, though, in every sense of that word.

According to one measure based on publicly available information, the aggregate cost of federal regulation tops $1.9 trillion annually. For those keeping score, that breaks down to $14,000 for each and every U.S. household.

Rather than determining and implementing the minimum amount of governance necessary to accomplish an objective, just the opposite is more often the case. As if a kitchen sink approach would work better. The problem is that maximum efforts preclude what could be minimal efforts that are just as effective at less cost. That’s not to mention more flexible solutions tailor made to solve problems.

In the end, effective government is a combination of quantity and quality. Of legislating and regulating only as much as necessary and bringing to the process integrity and a genuine desire to serve constituents. 

Imagine that.

Contrast that with what seems more like the single-minded pursuit to thwart the other political party. The winners can claim victory, to be sure, but a Pyrrhic one that inflicts a devastating toll on the citizenry.

There’s an argument to be made for the precept that government is best which governs least. Ultimately, that government is best which governs well.