I’ve been wondering, as is my wont, on issues I can do nothing about.
The big play at the moment seems to be between the proponents of big versus small government. I tweeted a link this afternoon to a piece on A Better People. The piece describes how some of the functions of tax collection might be replaced with the process of crowdfunding:
With the rise of the internet, however, another approach to funding government is becoming more viable – crowdfunding.
Crowdfunding involves asking people to provide funds for worthwhile projects on a micro-scale, many individuals each donating a small amount.
This isn’t a totally new approach. Rich philanthropists have donated millions for worthwhile causes, communities have come together to fund (and build) small public works and individuals have adopted park benches and potholes for many years.
However the internet has lifted crowdfunding to a new level, with the potential to cost-effectively raise millions of dollars through tiny individual donations in a managed way.
The only response to my tweet at the time of writing was (I think) to indicate this would be the way forward in order to cut big government. I fail, however, to see how this conclusion was arrived at. Let me explain.
In our modern civilisation, government is always big. In reality, there is no getting away from this big government. Sometimes, this government is located in that part of society where politicians are voted for and we regularly (though not as frequently as we might prefer) get to throw them out. This kind of big government may attempt – as I feel is right – to mediate between the needs of the voters, the economic engine of business and other interested parties out there. It may, however, on the other desultory hand, and as I believe is happening right now, give in to the demands of moneyed citizens and allow them a permanently exaggerated influence over the resulting democracy.
There is, of course, quite a different big government. This is the kind of big government which results from the kind of response (I think) the tweet I mention above was making. Here, the proponents of such government make out it is actually small government. They aim to ensure politicians we vote for have as few resources as possible to dish out and share (or not) amongst the commoners. What such proponents fail to realise is that big government – just like energy (a matter which is never created, never destroyed, only ever converted) – will always find a place to install itself. In this case, then, those moneyed citizens I mention above gain not just a permanently exaggerated influence over this now sad body we call democracy but – in truth – a de facto control over everything.
This is how big government slides into a different landscape: it becomes the exclusive tool of the rich and wealthy instead of a bulwark against the abuses all of us at some time or other might be inclined to contemplate. From the hateful big public government feared by the small governmenters – that beast which cannot always be properly controlled – it becomes the fearful big private government despised by the state-enamoured socialists and social democrats.
The only conclusion I can come to as a result is that big government is a given; is inevitable; and needs to be accepted.
In a complex society such as the one we now inhabit, the question is not big versus small government.
The question is what type of big government.
Which leads me on to consider the confusing issue of democracy. If we believe in it, we should implement it above and beyond the immediate requirements of efficacy. And if we believe in it thus, big government should serve – above all – the democratic instincts which allow a populace to express its voice on a regular basis.
If, however, we feel at all that time is short – that decisions taken speedily are more useful than decisions taken ultra-democratically – the kind of big government we should really be contemplating is quite a different beast. Here, it should be populated by pyramidal hierarchies where few people are in charge. The principle being that a bad decision taken quickly is better than any decision at all – whether good or bad – which finds itself being taken over a wearisome period of time.
And if we believe in a democracy of greater complexity, a “good democracy” to use Peter Levine’s terminology, where the needs of citizen empowerment are matched against the efficiency of the process, where indeed the definition of efficiency contemplates the degree to which ordinary citizens are afforded the opportunity to take part, the kind of big government we should aim to create will combine aspects of both the big public government we are accustomed to complain about as well as the big private government we are generally led to believe benign.
Or which we are, in fact, mostly oblivious of.
Big versus small government? I think it’s clear what I feel on the subject. The real question now, I suppose, is whether those who prefer to posit the argument around the aforementioned axis do so out of ignorance or do so with an unfortunate – and quite ill-natured – intentionality.
A question for another day perhaps?
What say you?