What is the real issue that was being discussed during the debt limit debate? I make that the subject of my PJM piece today:
Government has grown so big that it is impossible to control. Have we ever asked how any government purportedly representing a free people can possibly oversee, manage, direct, command, administer, or even comprehend such complexity as our federal government today? One president, 535 members of Congress, and nine Supreme Court judges cannot even remotely grasp what they have wrought in our names. Yes, the president has cabinet officers who are supposed to ride herd on their departments. But even if they are competent, intelligent, and dedicated public servants, how much can they truly grasp of their department’s total impact on citizens?
My colleague at PJMedia, David Steinberg, had some similar thoughts a few months ago. After listing a mind-boggling number of commissions, departments, agencies, and programs that make up some of what our government does, Steinberg wrote:
What is Big Government?
It is our time: It is oxidizing, the aging process applied to civilization and turning us to dust. Big Government is nothing less than the consumption of our very moment here on Earth, our lives spent creating and producing. Take our works and humanity, skim from the top, then the middle until we were not here.
No man’s time is another’s to waste, not politics but morality. This stupid, stupid list is our government, and the creators of this owe an answer to their benefactors — an answer to a question neither about the politics or the theory, as none of that is relevant to the actual government that exists as people working at the above agencies, being paid from the profits, and then the principal, of civilization.
He’s right. But what do you do about it? Cutting spending doesn’t get at the root of the disease. It only treats the symptom. Unless we can confront the central question of what government should be doing, and come to some kind of rough consensus about the Leviathan’s role in American society, we are striking out blindly in an effort to tame it.
First, figure out what we want government to do, then fund it. The federal budget, as written, embodies what we think government should be doing for us. Thousands and thousands of pages of programs, services, agency budgets — $3.8 trillion that represents the hopes and aspirations of the people, as well as security, and life and livelihood to tens of millions. Incomprehensible? To a degree, yes. But the budget was not created by aliens and plopped on Obama’s desk. We created it. It’s all ours. And the idea that we can’t have a thorough and rational debate about what’s in that budget — that most of it is off limits or out of bounds — is absurd.
It’s a chimera, of course — this idea that we would ever really make the attempt to understand what government is doing and seek to define its limits or curtail its power. For many on the left, there are no limits. In the name of “social justice,” or some hazy definition of “equality,” the untrammeled growth of government is a necessity. The beast will eventually consume us because there is a sizable portion of the population that doesn’t want a rational discussion about the size or the nature of government in a free society, preferring the status quo with government spending on autopilot and the engineer asleep at the switch.