THOUGHT EXPERIMENT

Posted in Rants on August 26th, 2013 by Ed

Recently I spent an evening with some people I just met, including one gentleman of a very conservative bent. He went on a number of fairly familiar conservative rants. I didn't engage him, as despite this I found him pretty pleasant, everyone seemed to be having a good time, and over time I've found that it's neither productive nor worth the effort to debate in these settings. It did, however, leave me puzzled the more I thought about the things he said.

While this is a forum for extreme sarcasm and general rudeness, I'm going to pose this question in earnest. If anyone can shed some light on this, I legitimately want to know. There are a few conditions, though. First, this is not a question for the small subset of libertarians who believe in the absolute abolition of government. The question presumes that for most people on the right, there is some acceptable level of government and some functions that are properly public. It might not be much, but when pressed very few conservatives actually believe there should be no government. If you happen to be of this school of thought, this question is not for you. Please go elsewhere and, I don't know, hand-load ammo or skin a deer or check the filter seals on your bunker's ventilation system or whatever it is you do for fun.

OK. Without recourse to "Government should be abolished" as an answer, consider this: How can "Less government!" be the solution to every problem if government is also, as conservatives consider fundamental to their beliefs, inefficient and incompetent?

If government cannot do anything right, then it is inefficient at allocating its resources. That would mean, logically, that there are some things to which the government is devoting far too many resources and others to which it devotes far too few. There should, in other words, be some problem to which "More government!" is the answer. An incompetent or inefficient government could not get everything wrong in the exact same way – i.e., by over-governing. There is a stochastic element to incompetence, and inefficiency in particular is a common accusation made by small government advocates.

In essence, I see this as a more sophisticated version of a problem common among the nuttier, less intelligent elements on the right – that is, the simultaneous belief that government can't do anything correctly but it somehow orchestrates massively complex conspiracies. Barack Obama secretly controls the entire government and the Fed secretly runs the world yet the government is incapable of running a lemonade stand.

I'm perplexed. Enlighten me.