Nanny State – Are the Ideas of Liberty and Small Government Compatible with Social Responsibility

No, I’m not a “Tea Partier”, I’m not a neo-conservative, and I don’t even like Fox News.  I am, however, an advocate for liberty and relatively small government and one of the most common arguments  my friends and critics bring up is that liberty and small government are not compatible with social responsibility. The argument typically implies that human beings are entitled to a minimum standard of living (I agree) and that it is the government’s job to provide that via social programs (I disagree).

I agree that all human beings should be given certain minimum standards.  Those standards are things like food, shelter, and personal liberties (Life, liberty, and the persuit of happiness – the founding fathers might say).  Even criminals are housed and fed so in my opinion, in any civilized and well developed society, all law abiding citizens should receive those benefits too.  My stark contrast in thought is in who is responsible for providing those things to the people.  I argue that it is NOT the government’s job to do so, but rather we should leave aid to private institutions, not-for-profit bodies, and the citizens themselves.  Here are a few reasons why.

1. Government programs are ineffective in evaluating those who need aid:

The fact is that the government is simply bad at evaluating needs.  For example, a good friend of mine recently lost his job.  He is an MBA student and graduates in a few months.  He also has a full time job lined up for after graduation.  In the mean time no one will hire him because he can’t commit for more than a few months.  This means no insurance for his two kids and no income.  The government has no aid for him, even though he has paid into the system his entire life and is a productive member of society.  Common sense would tell you these are the type of people we want to help. I mean, in a few months he will be paying more than his fair share to that same system that wouldn’t help him when he needed it.

On the other hand my own Mother has received government welfare for over 20 years.  The result has been disastrous.  Because she receives FREE benefits from the government she has had no incentive to educate or train herself for work.  Government assistance has taught her to rely totally on hand-outs.  Had she been put into a private system, with people who actually cared for her, she may have stood a chance – but the government has not REAL way of evaluating such needs.

My Mother isn’t the worst case either.  We have all heard the horror stories about people who abuse and find loopholes in the system.  I have personally witnessed people who work “under the table” (without paying income taxes) and receive benefits such as free healthcare and food stamps – but they bring home more money than the average American after income taxes.  It is an unfair system where our tax dollars must go to these types of people.

I’m not saying the government is wrong 100% of the time or that it doesn’t have good intentions.  A lot of the people that receive help actually need it.  The majority in fact.  I’m just arguing that there is a better way to do business, that need for aid should be more effectively evaluated, and that there are more effective bodies that could do it.

2. The Government has too much Bureaucracy and is Wasteful: 

Another problem with Government is that it tries to be all things to all people.  There are simply too many hands in the pot.  Conservatives want things their way, Liberals want their way – some people want a socialist concept of government, others want a completely hands off government – the rest of us fall somewhere in the middle.  The over arching issue is that the government can’t do it all – it can’t even do some of it.

There is a reason that in the business world when people are doing a half-assed job people say “eh, good enough for government work.”  That’s because it is a well known fact that government work is slow and ineffective.  However, if we left social programs up to private entities, businesses, not-for-profit groups, and those who are hell bent on helping we could run these programs much more effectively and without wasted tax dollars.

Companies like the Red-Cross, our churches, and various other charitable aid based organizations is how I believe the entire system should work.  Frankly they are more equip to do so.

3. Private Organizations have more flexibility:

It is a well known fact that private organizations can adapt to market and environmental changes much more quickly and easily than the government.  Legislation doesn’t have to be fault over, interest groups do not have to be heard, etc.  The complex situations of every American doesn’t have to fit in a template to determine if you qualify for aid.  Certain areas where aid is need more can be more quickly capitalized on than others.  Organizations move much faster than government, that is a fact.  Pure speed and efficiency alone is a great reason we should transfer the responsibility of social programs to the private sector.

Follies and Where the Government CAN Help:

No organization is perfect and ALL organizations are subject to the greed of its owners.  Do I expect that no charitable organization would act corruptly, or do I expect the government to just go away?  NO, and I don’t want it to!

My arguement is this – the government should be a monitoring body to promote fair play and uphold the rules of the free market.  Thus, the government would allow private organizations to do the foot work, but the government can keep them honest.  You can see this in the private sector with Sarbanes Oxley which basically keeps public companies honest about their financials to stockholders (to prevent another Enron scandal).  While, no, it’s not perfect – it is better than the government running all private businesses.  Similarly, it would be better if charity were ran the same way.

Government can promote charity, provide incentives, and keep them honest – not run social programs like its own business.  Leave that up to the professionals and the people, not the government and the people’s tax dollars.

*NOTE: Yes, I know this argument isn’t perfectly articulated.  It’s more of a thought exercise for myself, although I do believe there are some valid points.  At a later date I’ll dive a little deeper into these thoughts, but at this point this post is already 1000 words long – so I’ll spare you.



6 thoughts on “Nanny State – Are the Ideas of Liberty and Small Government Compatible with Social Responsibility

  1. jon

    You’re might put me out of business. My research is funded by the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (of the National Institutes of Health). If we had to depend upon charitable contributions for scientific research I think we’d be in trouble. Cancer research might be OK — but most citizens wouldn’t realize that long-term cures most often are the result of basic research that is far removed from medical application at the time it’s conducted.

    Interesting along those lines – you might think that a government system choosing how to spend medical research dollars would be poorly run. It’s amazingly well run. I sit on an NIH grant panel, and the level of expertise among the scientists recruited to evaluate the research grants is impressive – and they really work hard to choose the very best grant proposals. (Only about 7% of grant applications currently receive funding today — which means that a lot of excellent research programs are not funded).

    I don’t know if anyone ever asked Ayn Rand her views on government funding of scientific research (and I know you’re not necessarily representing her views). But I’d be curious to know what she’d have thought about it.

  2. Atticus Finch

    You bring up an interesting point. Unless your research could somehow turn a major profit – like the pharmaceutical companies have been able to do – I’m not sure some research could survive completely independently of government help. And no one can dispute that research is important – even when it doesn’t turn a profit (ex. space exploration).

    In this article I was specifically thinking about welfare programs and how private companies and not-for-profits could do it better.

    In general, I certainly think there are instances where government can be for the greater good. Instances like educational research and education are usually great. Other times I think it would be best for government to keep their hands off.

    This is an issue I am still trying to work out. Especially when something is for the greater good of mankind. Issues like healthcare – should the government provide it for everyone? At what cost? What are the consequences? Socialism vs. Capitalism or somewhere in between?

    It’s so complex! Some programs I see great arguments to completely eliminate others I am on the fence about how they should be handled.

    Also, about Ayn Rand – I think she would be against a system where other people’s tax dollars have to pay for research they didn’t specifically want to pay for, but since the programs do exist I think she would say it is in scientists and researcher’s rational self interest to accept such payments. (http://ayn­randlexico­­con/govern­ment_grant­s_and_scho­larships.h­tml)

    This discussion to be continued… 🙂

  3. jon

    On you last point (Ayn Rand and accepting govt money), my father was a tax attorney; his clients were entrepreneurs — several were big Ayn Rand fans — not just fans – true believers (as was my father). One client asked my father to prepare an anti-trust suit against a competitor. My father mentioned that Ayn Rand didn’t believe in antitrust laws. His client said ‘I know. But they exist, and I’d be an idiot not to make use of them’.

    I think you and I grew up with opposite exposures and have both gone a bit away from these starting points. Perhaps we’ll meet somewhere in the middle. As you say, they’re complicated issues when you get to specifics of what should and shouldn’t be government responsibility.

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