The Argument for Limited Government | Sarah Stook
For the conservative and libertarian reader, limited government is a cornerstone of beliefs. State interference concerns many across the political spectrum, the ideology influencing policy and legislation for the true ideologues. Whilst true believers such as Ron ‘Dr. No’ Paul may be on the more stalwart section, you’ll find that most on the right of centre have a shade of limited government about them.
So what’s the argument for it? Well, there are several.
- Big Government Means Higher Taxes- No one likes paying taxes. Even those who advocate for more taxation aren’t huge fans of squinting at the decreasing pay check or scribbling down their tax returns on their IRS card. Nobody sees any left wing celebrities donating a big check to HMRC or Uncle Sam to help pay for public services. If we have to pay for increased government, it requires a bigger chunk of taxes to pay for this. Along with big taxes, there’s also borrowing.
With borrowing, it goes into the national debt. Now, it’s all well and good until debt gets too high, requiring austerity- which everyone then complains about even though they advocated for bigger government services. It’s also unfair on the future generations who will have to pay this off, having to contend with less income thanks to their parents and grandparents. Why should mistakes be paid for by those who had no involvement?
Now, taxation is theft is the rallying cry of the libertarian movement, but tax is an unfair thing. Taxes go to a government that often wastes it on bureaucracy and unnecessary spending. It is unfair that people work long hours, only to see money taken from the government. As a rule, tax isn’t a voluntary thing- if you don’t pay, you get in trouble. It’s not a thing you can really say no to. Tax may go up on the rich, which isn’t ideal, but it’s really not fair on lower income and the middle class, who should be allowed to work their way up instead of having their money taken away. More tax goes to services you may not use, taking away income that should be earned. We obviously want money for basics, but holidays and other luxuries aren’t too bad a wish.
- Government Stifles Us- Government expands itself by expanding rules and regulation. When government has a hold, it doesn’t allow its citizens the freedoms, liberty and power that they deserve. When police start to arrest people over comments on social media, that’s when we get concerned about freedom of speech, or the lack thereof. It’s easier in the USA due to the first amendment, but the lack of an official constitution as well as an increasingly statist government means that we cannot guarantee it in the UK.
Increased monitoring is another one, such as the actions of GCHQ and the NSA. Whilst George W. Bush wasn’t exactly a huge authoritarian, his PATRIOT Act after 9/11 and during the War on Terror was the enemy of civil libertarians everywhere. Big government takes away our civil freedoms, treating us as individual numbers as opposed to people. Monitoring is fine for crime and punishment, but the libertarians oppose it on civil liberty grounds.
Over-regulation is also burdensome. New businesses are one of the biggest employers and are an essential part of economics. If government makes it harder for people to employ and be employed, then we are stifling economic creativity and giving power to the big guys. If we cut through red tape, both public and private sector can become more efficient.
- There’s No Reason for Big Government- In both political theory and in practice, there is no need for the extension of government. Such an example is laid bare in the Preamble to the Constitution:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness… But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers were opposed to big government, probably due to how the British Crown treated the USA when they were a colony. In this passage, the signatories accept that the rights of men are simple and that if the government oversteps, then it is within their right to demand revolution. The First Amendment makes sure that the government keeps away from rights such as speech and religion, whilst the Tenth Amendment accepts that the federal government has the rights only mentioned in the Constitution, advocating for the model of states’ rights popular in the United States. For the Americans, the Bill of Rights is their saviour.
In political theory, mainly in strains of liberalism, there is no need for the government to step in where they don’t need. The government should only step in to provide what the market is unable to provide completely, such as education and emergency services. Healthcare is contentious, as the NHS is a sacred cow in the UK, but the others are set out clearly. Charity tends to be better and more far reaching than government welfare (which is not to say it should be completely abolished), such as the Catholic Church. Private companies have stepped in to provide services, such as Domino’s with pot holes, Andela with employment in Africa, Honda with climate change and PornHub with trees (seriously), though it’s probably unrealistic for that to become a permanent solution to government.
In short, we don’t want government raiding our income, over regulating our business and taking away our civil liberties. The argument for limited government is strong and it is one that all conservative parties across the world, especially in the UK and US, should follow.