Why it is necessary for government to be small

Let me start off by stating that I am a communitarian who desires a utopian society. I wish that we could have a selfless society that helps each other, and a competent government that would make all the right decisions for everybody. In short, I desire the same outcome as that of most socialists.

The Government is in the business of making decisions. All decisions have (A) an intended outcome, and (B) an actual outcome. Often, the actual outcome doesn’t match the intended outcome (often called the Law of Unintended Consequences). Sometimes, the adverse effects of unintended outcomes are disastrous. A good government must be able to minimise the adverse effects of decision-making, and respond quickly and appropriately when unintended outcomes come to light.

Let’s first consider how well the decision-making process scales, using an example of what to eat for dinner…

One person: Imagine you were on your own, you could just simply just consider the options – what you feel like eating, what you already have available in storage, what shops are selling, how much you can afford, whether or not you want to prepare it yourself or just have a ready meal, whether or not it might be more convenient to treat yourself to eating out, do you want to do what you normally do or do you want to try something different… etc. There are a lot of factors to consider, but these factors are considered naturally and quickly because it’s just yourself. You can usually even make these decisions on the day without prior planning.

Two people: Now imagine you’re making this decision with your significant other. You have to make all the same decisions, except this time there are two people to consider. You have to take into consideration what each other would like to eat, and it includes further factors like whether or not one is willing and able to prepare food for both of you, and whether or not the other would eat the food prepared. It’s not hard, but you do have to communicate and discuss this decision. A decision that would have taken a couple of seconds now takes a couple of minutes. And you can still make these decisions on the day, but some planning ahead would help.

A small group of about 10 people: Imagine you wanted to have dinner with some friends. Now you definitely have to plan things. On top of the above, you now have to consider a date when everyone is available, and even then some people may miss out. You have to take into consideration the more diverse dietary choices and needs such as allergies or if certain friends don’t like particular cuisines. You have to consider the location that suits everyone, which could mean choosing between a central location that everyone has to travel the same distance, or a location convenient to most people except for one who has to travel some distance. Now you definitely have to do some planning ahead.

A bigger group of people, maybe in the high tens: Imagine you’re organising something like a graduation party for you and your fellow graduates. Now you have to consider, including all of the above, who’s going to pay for it? What’s going to please the most people? To find out, you could either speak to every single person (which would be labour-intensive), or you could estimate everyone’s tastes based on your past experience with everyone, or you could just decide and hope that everybody likes it and accepts it. Because you cannot take every single person into account, some compromises will have to be made, and many are going to be displeased with your decision. Some will say it’s too expensive, others will say it’s too cheap, some will dislike the venue, the distance they have to travel, the type of food, etc. You will have to do LOTS of planning ahead, and even then a lot of people will be unhappy.

A huge group of people, hundreds or even thousands: Now imagine you’re a conference organiser. You have to do even more planning ahead, and even more people will be unhappy. Expectations will be higher – Demands on quality will be of perfection itself, all the while maintaining a low and manageable budget.

Let’s keep scaling it up… A small town? A county? A nation?

At this scale, it’s frankly impossible to make minor decisions that will please everybody. The best thing to do is to let everyone choose for themselves what they want to have for dinner. Lay out a buffet instead, and let everyone decide for themselves.

But there’s also a darker side to this: What happens when mistakes are made in the decision? What happens when things go wrong? As the group size increases, the decision-making becomes more centralised, and less and less people are being taken into account. When there are only one or two people, the people affected is only those involved in the decision-making. When there are lots of people, many are affected, mainly those who are not involved in decision-making. Those who make the decisions are usually not badly affected, because they have already taken their own concerns into account in the decision-making process.

And it gets darker still: how do the decision-makers respond when a mistake comes to light? When pride comes into play, decision-makers don’t like their decision challenged. They tend to defend their decisions rather than own up to their mistakes. And even if they do admit their mistakes after overwhelming evidence has been brought to bear, there’s the issue of how to resolve the problem.

A bad decision requires more decisions to rectify the damage. Not only is it usually more expensive to resolve a mistake (prevention is better than cure), it is also very difficult to come to a decision on the right action to take. Should you (A) let someone else who who didn’t make the mistake in the first place resolve the problem? Or should you (B) trust the person who made the mistake to learn from their experience? In essence, we are not only back to square one, we now have further complications, to rectify the damage, as well as solve the first problem! In the meantime, whilst deciding on the right action to take, the damage continues to be done due to the decision already made.

In the case of governing the nation, I hope you can appreciate how bad decisions made at the top will indiscriminately affect everyone in the nation. Yet those who make the decisions are least affected by the adverse and unintended outcomes, not only because they have taken their personal considerations into account, but also because those at the top are the most financially secure and insulated from the damage.

How about the EU then? The essence of the EU is that representatives from member states come together to discuss and thrash out policies that are applied to everyone in all member states. Here’s the fundamental problem of the EU: They want to make decisions for everyone. They are not interested in minimal state, or small government. They think the only way to solve problems is to apply it on a large scale. Not only are we now involve vast numbers of people, we are also involving vastly different economies, cultures, human talents, and natural resources… You simply cannot have a one-sized fits all approach to tackle all issues.

We already have the Common Fisheries Policy damaging fish stocks and the fishing industry rather than helping it. This problem has been known for over 20 years, and they still haven’t done anything about it. We also have the Common Agricultural Policy that functions less as a regulatory policy and more as a protection racket for certain sectors of the industry. Not only have the EU not done anything about it, they actually won’t do anything about it because of vested political interests. Then there’s the problem of the Euro and the monetary policies of the Eurozone…

Please note: I’m not saying that countries should not work together. Of course the international community must come together and cooperate. We must have an embargo on things like slave-trading and indiscriminate war. But we do not need to be in political union to achieve this. The benefits of the EU, such as human rights, the common market, peace treaties, free movement of peoples, environmental considerations… can all be achieved via international treatises and agreements. We do not need to accept blanket directives as a necessary evil to achieve all of these benefits – sovereign nations are just as capable of putting these concepts into practice without centralised international governance.

I dream of a society where everyone was treated equally. Where everyone desired good, and was free to do whatever they chose without hindrance or harming anybody. Where everyone only consumes what they need, and works to optimum productivity. Where everyone in need would be helped charitably by those who were able. Where those who governed did so out of selfless interest for the best of society, where governors were elected on basis of their merit, and where the governor makes all the best decisions for everyone.

But we don’t live in such a society. Human beings are prone to incompetence, lacking in understanding, and subject to selfish egos.

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Author: Hoong-Wai

I'm a sinner. I have an interest in economics, philosophy, politics, science, sociology, technology, theology (in alphabetical order). I care about truth and justice. I can be a contrarian.

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