One of my recent projects here at the Mackinac Center involved typing every single line item of the Michigan Budget into a spreadsheet. If anyone remains unconvinced that our government is trying to tackle too much, I challenge them to duplicate this feat. Such an expansive government is not healthy for our state, and we must act to limit the reach of our government as an economic and moral imperative.
Our government has assumed increasing control over industries which used to be the domain of private enterprise, including education, agriculture, and health care. While the creators of such programs may mean well, they fail to see many drawbacks of using government in these areas. All government revenue is gathered using the threat of force- citizens may not simply choose not to pay their taxes. Therefore, government bureaucrats receive large amounts of money and little accountability to use it wisely, when compared with the private sector. If a private sector business uses money poorly or provides lousy service, it goes bankrupt. If a government department does the same, it will probably get as much or more money next year, and citizens will have no choice but to fund it — if they refuse to pay their taxes, the IRS will come knocking.
This year’s state budget weighs in at just under $49 billion dollars, $29.4 billion of which comes from the State of Michigan itself (the rest is Federal money). Now, who or what can actually keep track of that amount of money in detail? Even a truly altruistic and well-meaning bureaucrat would find it difficult to manage such sums efficiently. Elections provide some measure of accountability for government programs and taxes, but voters have proven unfortunately pliable when they are promised a slice of the government money pie. Couple this limited accountability with the lack of a profit motive, and it’s no surprise that public-sector spending has grown enormous, both in Michigan and the United States as a whole.
Even more importantly, government overspending carries moral as well as economic consequences. All government taxation is backed with the threat of force, and so government has a moral responsibility to its citizens to use its revenue for the common good. Taking away from citizens and then neglecting the common good amounts to little more than theft. Michigan’s legislators must ask themselves the hard question: is it really for the common good that we collect nearly $50 billion each year, redirecting that money towards projects that many citizens neither know about nor desire? Is that moral?
Of course, everyday citizens also have an important role to play. We must disown many of the favors which we seek from government. America’s founders designed a Republic: a nation in which each citizen, whether high or lowly, had a part to play for the defense of the common good. This means recognizing the value and rights of one’s fellow men, and not using government power to make them pay for our privileges. In modern America, thousands of groups operate in the latter way, all seeking special favors backed by government force, and blowing up the balloon of overspending. We might desire government to provide us with some good, but we too must ask the hard question: would it be right and moral for government to take from other men and women in order to provide this for us? If the answer is no, we must stop seeking that favor from government or else stop calling ourselves Americans.
In sum, both moral and economic arguments tell us to cut back on government size and spending. This can be done, but it will require a great deal of individual responsibility from American citizens. If we truly care about America’s continued freedom and prosperity, however, we will not tarry in restoring government to its proper, limited role.