Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Government has doubled since 1999, deploys 70 bureaucracies to deal with hunger, and has few ways to measure success

When Thomas Jefferson famously said, "The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases," he wasn't merely talking about the politics of his day, but the politics of human behavior across generations and across continents. President Reagan no doubt had this principle in mind throughout his presidency. Reagan updated Jefferson with his suggestion that "as government expands, liberty contracts."

We hear a lot of rhetoric today about ending the "politics of the past," but there is no question more relevant or timely than the timeless question Jefferson and our other Founders asked: "What is the proper scope of government that will maximize freedom, prosperity, and security?" Our key policy debates revolve around this question, whether politicians admit it or not. The answer from our Founders, which was enshrined in our Constitution, is unmistakable: the best government is a limited government.

The past few decades in America have been a story of progressives who didn't like that answer slowly unraveling the limitations on government through Congress and the courts. Consider where we are today. Since 1999, the total size of government, not adjusted for inflation, has doubled. Since 2001, non-defense discretionary spending (spending for things like health care, education, and the environment that have nothing to do with the military) has increased 50 percent when adjusted for inflation. Since 1994, Congress has approved more than 90,000 earmarks. And every year, Congress creates more and more regulations (i.e., the health care bill and the financial reform) that take away freedom in the name of security and progress.

Government today is so big it is almost impossible to measure how wasteful and incompetent it has become. The defense budget is such a mess it is impossible to audit. In almost every area of government there is a tremendous amount of duplication and waste and barely any metrics or measurements for success.

For instance, we have 70 different sets of bureaucracies in at least six agencies to help feed hungry people without any way to measure success.

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