When I pine for limited government, I am often met with challenges as to how government spending could reasonably be cut. To me, this kind of question is utterly ridiculous. The opportunities for cutting spending are so plentiful and manifold (and ever increasingly so), that we could pretty much start anywhere. Some of the best places to start would be those that seldom see the light of public scrutiny.
Of course, those posing the challenge as to how spending could be cut are listening to the cries of the ever ravenous beast that government can be, crying about insufficient funds. It’s like my teenage son that has grown a foot in height and doubled his weight in the past couple of years, saying, “I’m hungry.” This occurs with regularity except for when he is asleep. It is a common refrain often heard even within an hour of consuming a large meal.
Consider Utah’s education industrial complex, for example. I know that some will flame me for daring to even mention this highly sacred cow, but please indulge me. Jesse Harris ably discusses this matter in this post. He notes, “Utah's per-pupil spending ranking has been slipping only because other states are intent on spending everyone else under the table.”
Jesse continues, “We've also watched education spending in our state increase 54% in the last decade while the student population only increased 9%. Despite all this, test scores and teacher salaries stay flat. If you try voicing any opposition to keeping the gravy train coming to town, however, teacher's unions will slap you with an anti-education label you couldn't remove with hydrochloric acid.”
And let’s not forget the fact that we’ve poured copious amounts of cash into the system to address the ever present cry that classrooms are overcrowded. But after a decade of chucking cash at these problems, they are as bad as ever. When the legislature asked educrats where they spent the money intended to solve these problems, they were unable to provide an accounting. That hardly inspires confidence that the half billion Dollars the legislature has decided to throw at education this session will be properly managed.
And education isn’t the only culprit. These kinds of problems exist throughout the width and breadth of state and federal government. The CATO Institute’s Chris Edwards noted in the introduction to a 2004 paper about how to cut federal spending that government funds had been scandalously mismanaged by numerous agencies. He says that this is because the expansive government “has simply become too big for [legislative bodies] to oversee.” I wonder, along with Edwards, why our society has increasingly come to see expanding government as the answer to so many issues, given the fact that its track record is so poor.
Edwards asserts, “All [government] spending displaces private spending, but many [government] programs actively damage the economy, cause social ills, despoil the environment, or restrict liberty as well.” He rejects the trend to centralize power and funding that has resulted in “a complex array of 716 grant programs [that] disgorges more than $400 billion annually to state and local governments, which become strangled in federal regulations.” His 2005 book explores ways to properly cut government spending in more detail.
George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux writes in this post that cutting government spending is so difficult because “nearly all programs currently in operation have a kind of political sacredness. They become almost immediately locked-in; each one becomes very difficult to kill.” He says that this looks an awful lot like a form of addiction.
But the government is us. We are doing this to ourselves. Or at least we are allowing it to happen. If we want government to be properly managed, it needs to be reduced to a manageable size. Unfortunately I don’t see many at the state or federal level that are serious about this. Although some give it lip service, actions show that most of our elected officials from both major parties actually believe quite the opposite. And by extension, that means that most of the electorate believes quite the opposite as well.