Some People Like Big Government

Q: I didn’t find that your “big vs. little government” article expressed my views. I advocate “big enough” government. Only the federal government grants freedom to the people. They must be big enough to enforce it. They must be big enough to face up to big business to protect the public from bad business practices including environmental pollution. And apparently big enough to bail out the banking industry whenever they don’t do their job of managing risk. Without big enough government we are governed by the owners of big business. That’s what I want the government to protect me from.

A: You see big business as the enemy. But what is an enemy, actually? I define an enemy as someone who would initiate force against me. How, exactly, can a business — big or not — initiate force or violence against you? No business, no matter how profitable or big, can make you buy or otherwise do anything you don’t want to do. A company could be worth billions or even trillions of dollars; no matter, you cannot be made to do what you don’t want to do. If somebody did hold a gun to your head, then that’s what you’d need government protection for — but only at that point. Government should be “big enough,” you’re right, but only big enough to protect you from those who would initiate physical force, harm or violence against you.

I realize that you might not like everything a business does. For example, you might feel that a bank should give loans to more people than they do. You might feel that a television or computer producer should charge you less for a product than is currently the cost on an open market. The fact that a company is big and successful and won’t do what you feel it should do might lead you to feel that this company is mean or otherwise not pleasing to you. But in a free country, and in a capitalist system, this is your problem — not the company’s, and not the government’s.

You say that sometimes businesses don’t manage their own risk, and the government must bail them out. I don’t agree. In this respect, I’m much harder on “big business” or business in general than you are. I don’t think government — and the portion of the population who pay taxes — should be responsible if a company fails to manage risk, or to please its customers. If you’re talking about banks and lending companies, by the way, I also maintain that government should have left them alone in the first place. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, government should not have been intervening in the marketplace in such a way as to encourage or force banks to lend to people who were bad risks. Thanks to the policy of the federal government you so love, there were people who would never have received loans were it not for the actions of government officials in the Clinton and Bush administrations who wanted to make sure that “banks loan to everybody, so that every American can have a house.” These sorts of government interventions lead only to disaster. If government had been smaller in this instance, and in many other instances, the big businesses would have acted much more rationally and we would not have had the disaster we had in 2008-09.

As for pollution, of course a company should be held liable for doing objective damage to the property of another. But this is not the same as using government to decide how much energy or fuel people should use, and micromanaging every last detail of every business owner’s life to prevent any risk or loss whatsoever. Holding people accountable is one thing, but assuming businesses are guilty from the get-go, and must be regulated into oblivion, is not the same thing. You might like the idea of your big, “caring” government outlawing all kinds of things that might or might not do damage to the environment, but I’m sure you don’t like it when, year after year, the economy stops growing and the standard of living starts to slowly go down for everyone, as is now happening. The Obama Administration is piling on more EPA regulations than any administration before it, which is saying something, because administrations before it did a lot of damage to the economy as well. Do you care so much about ridding the environment of every last little potential risk that you’re willing to forego the comfortable life that people in the United States have come to take for granted? Good luck with that, but I for one want no part of it. A government “big enough” to do this is no government that I want.

Freedom is not your enemy. Free people are not your enemy. Unless you hate the sight of success, or feel that it threatens you in some way, you have nothing to fear or loathe in a free society, including a capitalist society. All you need protection from is the force of thugs, thieves, terrorists and con artists. You claim that without big government we are governed by the owners of big business. How is this, exactly? Government has the power to fine people, put people in jail, and even execute people in some cases. What private business has this power? It’s true that big businesses have a lot of power over their resources and products—BECAUSE THEY OWN THEM. You might want or need those products. But without a big business to produce those things, you’d be without them. Government provides none of this. Why aren’t you thanking big business rather than claiming you need protection from it? The only time to thank government is when it protects you from a thief, a violent criminal, an invading army or a terrorist. By all means, thank government for protection from these things. But don’t thank government for protecting you from the “tyranny” of the productive, the enterprising and the profit-makers who make your life infinitely more comfortable, reasonable and tenable than if these profit-makers had never existed.

Oh, and one more thing. Government does not grant us our rights. Government (at least ideally) protects them. We have rights whether government chooses to recognize them or not. Don’t look to the federal government to grant you your rights. The way things are going, the federal government we know today is much more likely to trample on them than protect them. It’s the complacency and wrong-headedness of the views you expressed which have turned our country from a robust and free nation into one now in decline.