The Size of Government

When I’m out talking to people and knocking doors to meet voters, I’m often asked how I feel about the size of government.   There are a lot of problems with how we frame this question, because I think no one has a really good sense of what “big” or “little” or even right-sized looks like when we approach government.  What we do feel, often, is that the Government seems to put up restrictions or barriers to things we want to do.  Some of these rules and regulations seem silly or needlessly intrusive, and that can be incredibly irritating.  These feelings of frustration tend to get lumped into the “Government is too big” category, rather than the “We need to make government more responsive and agile” box, and it’s natural to start to feel we need to starve the Government of Money to bring it under control.

Let’s look at government as a bit of a coach potato.  Over the years, it’s gotten a bit out of shape.  It’s BMI looks off, and even it doesn’t always recognize how it got to this stage, or where to start solving the problem.  So let’s take our Government avatar to Jillian Michaels or a Cross Fit Gym, and see what they would recommend.

Part of getting Government to work better is getting it to start to work out (together) more regularly. We need teamwork, regardless of party, to get Government motivated and moving again.  Instead of being perpetually paralyzed over making decisions and instead staying with the status quo, we need to start to have Government experiment with new behaviors, make decisions, and learn from the process, refining ideas and design over time.

New behaviors for fitness and weight loss come on many fronts.  What we need is a balanced approach to getting the Government back in shape, concentrating on fitness over mere weight or size.  The Republicans, as a rule, look at successful Government reform coming only from restricting spending, like restricting calories.  But every trainer will tell you that while restricting calories might work in the short run, the real issue is making sure that the diet is more appropriately balanced with healthy foods, better nutrition,  and with regular exercise to build and retain muscle, to make sure behavioral changes stick for the long term.

In the recovery after the financial crisis, almost every sector has recovered to pre-crash levels except for State and Government jobs.  The July jobs report confirms this, and that these are largely middle class jobs, rather than lower wage retail and service industry work.  Some Government jobs are starting to rebound, and this is actually a good thing. We need to be spending money to make sure laws are enforced, infrastructure is repaired, and that the old, lethargic way of operating is gradually modernized.  This is equivalent to the weight-lifting, toning and strength training of the bones and muscles of government that helps it move more effectively, and as needed.

For example, by spending money to modernize State websites, people can find information more efficiently, file forms and pay any fees or taxes simply and efficiently, saving both the Government and individuals tons of time and money.

Government would be better understood and appreciated if it spent time making the regulatory process easier and more efficient.  For example, if you wanted to start a business, you need to know basic things from whether or not you need a business license, local or State, what the local city, county, and State wage taxes might be, if certain insurance coverages are recommended or required- this shouldn’t be a mystery, but should be available in a simple PDF booklet, readily available.  Better yet, you should be able to go through an online decision tree, answering a couple of questions, and have a customized guide printed out for you at the end.

This sort of solution helps make Government and the processes involved less mysterious, and seem less onerous.  It will also help folks figure out exactly where we might be able to streamline processes to make starting or operating a business more efficient.

There will still be regulations that some people will feel are pointless.  I was surprised to find out this week that there is an OSHA regulation regarding the spacing of traffic cones in construction zones.  This might seem like “over-regulation”, but through research, OSHA has found that there’s an optimal distance to make sure people respect the traffic cones, and hence protect the safety of workers as well as themselves.  Now that I understand this, I’m less concerned about “all those rules” needed on construction sites, and instead, more impressed that so much work and training has gone in to make sure everyone is safe.

When I’m asked whether I think Government is too big, I now respond that the size itself is less of a concern, but rather Government needs to be more efficient and in better shape to more efficiently execute its functions.  I can’t tell you, nor do I think anyone else can, the exact number of workers or Governmental Departments, or regulations, etc. that would lead to governmental nirvana- there is no one, perfect, size.  But like anyone who has ever been successful in losing weight, the end goal needs to be long term health, not just one number on the scale.  There are plenty of skinny people who have no endurance or stamina, and there are plenty of people carrying extra pounds who are incredibly strong and fit.  The end goal should always be becoming healthier and getting  in better shape overall- and that applies to both governments and people alike.

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