Too Big Not To Fail [2]: the limits of Big-Gov


A couple of days ago, I started this little “mini-series” on some of the more structural problems that seem to be messing the country up. I used the Obama Health Care law as an example of the limits of “Big-Corp”, and today I turn to the other behemoth in the room, Big Government.

The Shortfalls of Big-Government

Is the answer, then, in light of the breakdown of free market forces at the huge “macro” level, to bring in more Government?  I don’t really know, but I don’t think so.

Big-Gov, it seems, suffers from the same shortfalls as Big-Corp.  Our government, in a way, is structured to work on the same principles that are supposed to make Capitalism work well, and, in the end, suffers the same disadvantages as it increases in size.

The three branches, the bicameral legislature, and our intricate series of checks-and-balances are supposed to spur on innovation, “product-quality”, and “customer satisfaction” by way of competition.  With competing interests, the hope is that only that which is best for the nation will be done.  This is because we, the people, supposedly control the flow of “currency” (power).

But in reality we don’t, and in light of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, I fear we’ll control even less.  The same things that would plague a corporate competitive free-for-all with health care would plague a government “take-over” of health care.  Corruption, money, making the rich richer, and keeping the powerful in power would be the driving forces behind any efforts.  And the consumer would lose either way.

As Timothy Noah and Princeton economics professor Uwe Reinhardt pointed out: there’s no such thing as effective “light” reform.  Lots has to be done either by Big-Corp or Big-Gov to make real changes and neither giant will move.  And the people don’t have the power to move them, make them work, nor make them efficient. As The Atlantic‘s James Fallows famously discovered, America the polity is hopelessly broken.  It seems that the government, just like some of our banks think they’re “too big to fail”.

And just like with the banks, entities that see themselves as so big they are privileged to do as they please, only fail the ones for whom they are indebted for their existence and continuing vitality.

So if the two go-to panaceas of the Conservatives and Liberals (Capitalism and Government, respectively) don’t have the answers to our problems, what now?

What’s NOT the answer?

The problem with both Big-Corporate and Big-Government is the “Big” part.  I don’t know that either the framers of the Constitution or Adam Smith and the framers of Capitalism could have predicted just how massive both corporations and governments would become.  There seems to be some tipping point in size after which quality of service drops off dramatically.

Conservative commentators have hinted at this when they write about “the famous liberal two-step: First screw something up, then claim that it’s screwed up because there’s not enough government oversight (it’s the free market run wild!), and then step in and really screw it up in the name of ‘reform.’”  I mostly agree with this Conservative assessment.

I just don’t know that more Corporate is the answer either.  How is this not the same rallying cry as the Liberal, but just with a different all-consuming money-guzzling power-hungry entity called “Corporations”: First, screw something up, then claim it’s screwed up because there’s too much government oversight (it’s the Socialists run wild!), and then step in and really screw it up in the name of “Capitalism”.

Conservatives and Liberals alike have the same good goals in this debate, but—surprise—apparently they also have the same solution: an increase in the size of something already too big.

This won’t work.

Neither Conservatives nor Liberals have a viable answer to our present situation.  The idealist in me tends to be far more libertarian, Constitutionalist, gold-standard bearing, radical and almost “Whig”-like (yeah, I said it. What?).  The pragmatist in me, though, thinks that with the existing materials we have to work with, the more Liberal approach may get slightly more things done.

But there is also the Christian in me that wonders if there is a unique perspective Christian theology can have in producing possible solutions.

The next and final post in this will be laying out some of my thoughts on solutions, but for now, I’d love to hear yours. Comment below.

[header image credit: Beverly & Pack on Flickr]

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