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Small government

Written By: - Date published: 7:35 am, October 26th, 2012 - 54 comments
Categories: accountability, national, public services - Tags: ,

I have never understood voting for conservative “small government” types. Why vote for a government that wants to do nothing? Why surrender power to “the market”, which is run by faceless, unelected entities? It is surrendering the power of your vote. If the government goes wrong you can change it. If “the market” goes wrong you’re screwed.

“Small governments” also have practical consequences. Bryan Gould reflected on some of these recently:

…Recent events, however, remind us yet again that – contrary to so much popular wisdom – most government spending goes to purposes that matter greatly, both to those who are directly helped and to our efficiency, health and integrity as a society.

Sometimes, for those who care to learn, the lesson is especially direct and painful. If government cuts back on inspecting mines, mine safety is jeopardised and miners can lose their lives. If bio-security border controls are not adequately maintained, destructive bacteriological pests from overseas, like PSA, can decimate a hugely valuable export industry.

If our public service is under-resourced and undervalued, mistakes are made. Standards that we should expect to be maintained are not met; we find, for example, that the privacy of those who reveal their most personal details to government agencies is betrayed or negligently misplaced by an Accident Compensation Commission or an Inland Revenue Department or a Ministry of Social Development.

And that is on top of the inexorable erosion of services that must now make do with reduced resources – from the defence forces and the police to schools, health care and community law services. Those who rely on those services, and that means most of us at some time or another, may not recognise what is happening until a crisis point – the collapse of a platform at Cave Creek, for example – is reached.

…It is already the case that the Government seems increasingly accident-prone. There is a sense that ministers are poorly directed from above and poorly served from below. The whole process of government seems to be unravelling.

A further consequence of this “small government” mindset is that Ministers, from the PM on down, seem to feel that they are not responsible for anything. Key is not responsible for the illegal actions of the GCSB. Collins is not responsible for the mess at ACC. Bennet is ever so not responsible for the litany of stuff-ups at WINZ. Tolley is not responsible for the bungling of the police. Peter Dunne took no responsibility for the IRD privacy breach, nor Hekia Parata for the mess she made of Christchurch schools or the bungled teachers’ payroll system. And so on, and so on, and so on. Why do we have Ministers then? What is the point of them?

Cuts have consequences. Small governments make big mistakes, and plenty of them. Combine that with a culture where ministers are never held accountable for anything, and you have a recipe for bungling incompetence. A recipe for exactly the kind of mess we’re seeing every other day right now. In every sense of the word, this National government is a very small government indeed.

54 comments on “Small government ”

  1. Draco T Bastard 1

    Why surrender power to “the market”, which is run by faceless, unelected entities?

    Propaganda. We’ve been told so many times over the last few decades that government is always wrong that people have come to believe it. They don’t seem to realise that the only people who benefit from small government are the people who take over the roles of government for personal gain.

  2. vto 2

    Yep, surely the evidential results of this small government, self-regulation, free-market approach are apparent and alternative views can legitimately be changed without loss of face …… hello Rodney Hide, Roger Douglas?? what say you about minig inspections, cave creek, and don’t forget the leaking house monster ….

    Some will point to things like how long it used to take to get a phone connected pre-telecom days. Anyone tried dealing with getting a phone connection today? ha ha ha – what a joke…

    So, some minor wins for their philosophy but far more losses with the effect that people die. Simple.

    Oh, and don’t forget this government’s complete abandonment of the free market approach to rebuilding central Christchurch – perfect evidence that they do not believe in the free market themselves.

    This lot are so convoluted, tied up in knots, unable to make any sense, say one thing do another, that they are simply ununderstandable… like Key’s sentences, they make no sense.

  3. prism 3

    Great graphic. Homer’s small brain. Doh!

  4. AAMC 4

    Clearly the ‘Small Govt’ Meme emanates from think tanks like Cato, founded by Rothbard & Koch, the ‘free market’ and particularly ‘free trade’ have delivered us into a new Corporate Feudalism. But it’s important to remember that this doesn’t mean the opposite is therefore better. Also it’s important to remember these discussions start in and are polluted by a dysfunctional America.

    America’s Military I would consider to be part of the Government I’d like to see made smaller. The Fed printing money to hand to Banksters with which they prop up equities and other assets, hoover money from 99% of the population and starve Somali’s with commodity speculation is somewhere I’d be happy to see Govt smaller. The surveillance State is somewhere I’d like to see Government smaller. And through job creation I’d like to see the Welfare State smaller – not through throwing the unemployed to the dogs as the current Silver Spoon Authoritarians prefer.

    I don’t want to be hampered by unnecessary regulation of my small business, I want to operate in a truly free, rather than crony market. I want to be able to afford a glass of wine, even if some teenagers are getting too pissed at the Viaduct, I want to collect water off my roof, grow veg in my front garden, save seeds, have radical opinions, without the interference of Government.

    Big government; and I’d include these Crony Capitalist Nat’s in that – in the sense that their sort of Governance supports our real Central Planners – Multi-National Business, shouldn’t hamper our ability to interact and exchange with each other. Provided we have democratically established a clear set of rules and have a neutral ref in the game.

    A democratically elected Government should also manage the Commons, we should all contribute to provide safety nets, education, health, security. Serco clearly shouldn’t have a global monopoly on these strategic or civil necessities. Austrian Economists – who can be equally deluded as Keynesians – generally are as rabidly against what has been posing as a ‘Free Market’ as the rest of us, because there has never been one. Just a meme which has enabled elite wealth and power to concentrate. A truly free market, underpinned by the aforementioned rules and ref, would help to break these Oligopolies.

    The frightening thing that the US election is illustrating, is that against our best instincts, Democracy – in it’s current guise – polarizes us, pits us in eternal competition, meaning we never hear the nuance in each others arguments, locks us in a perpetual Cold War debate. And so, until we have a truly participatory Democracy, with a functioning media informing a motivated stakeholder citizenry, I too will be skeptical of Government. Because where I see Obama’s ‘Disposition Matrix’, I see a big Government that terrifies me.

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/oct/24/obama-terrorism-kill-list?mobile-redirect=false

    • aerobubble 4.1

      Yes. Its rather extremist to view government as either big or small, rather
      than effective or not. Sometimes small government is good, welfare for example
      where it costs a heap lot more to chance billionaire-CEO pocket change, but
      sometimes big government is good say in roading say. The right wing has
      had its day, from cheap oil, they could argue for less is more, but now
      politics have changed, needs have, and active better governance, small is not
      always better, big is not always either, is the future.

      And that requires a realignment, and the party that gets to a clear balanced
      consistent platform that is understandable will inherit government.
      i.e. chasing a few cents off a welfare recipient, when billions go missing
      isn’t the way forward.

  5. captain hook 5

    go back to when national was first elected.
    new zealand was subjected to a non stop barrage from radio skawkbak and nobody on the left did anything about it.
    the conceit was that kiwis were better than that but no and the liddle people had their revenge and they took all their planks directly from radio skwakbak who copied the tea party nonsense directly imported from the u.s.
    small government was one of those planks but it was essentially a lie.
    it is impossible to run any country in the world today without a government that spends money.
    and while they were mouthing all the slogans the national party myrmidons were licking their chops waiting for their opportunity to get their grubby little paws on the revenue.

  6. The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6

    Only we don’t have a small government.

    The latest available actual OECD data shows that New Zealand’s government is broadly in line with the OECD average in terms of expenditure and revenue as a share of GDP. At 40% of GDP in 2007, New Zealand’s general government expenditure was slightly lower than the average of 42% for the 29 OECD countries for which data is available

    • felix 6.1

      So why the constant bleating to cut the size of it?

      • Lanthanide 6.1.1

        Yip, just remember that we have so much red tape in NZ that needs to be stripped away, because we’re only 3rd place in the world for easiest to do business. We must be 1st!

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ease_of_doing_business_index

      • captain hook 6.1.2

        because it is just a ruse to offer their deluded followers something to bleat about.
        think back to arch conservative Ronald Reagan who stumped on the same plank but who oversaw massive rises in federal spending.

        • Capitalism rule's 6.1.2.1

          Remember that the late great Ronald Reagan increased spending to crush the usless communists who had spent the last 40 years threatening global nuclear war. He increased defence spending by 5% so the commies had to increase by 20% puttingthem out of action.

    • Pascal's bookie 6.2

      I’ve always thought that those sorts of measurements don’t really say much.

      Consisder the system we have now, with it clocking in at 40% or whatever. how much of that is just transfer payments? I suspect quite a bit.

      Now consider a different way of dealing with the same problems transfer payments seek to solve. For example, the govt could strongly involve itself in the labour market, issuing binding wage orders, and hefty redundancy payouts, employer funded maternity leave and the like.

      That would be a much more interventionist model than we have now, but would shrink the ratio of govt taxation and spending to gdp.

      • Gosman 6.2.1

        It would likely lead to increased unemployment and the associated transfer payments that go with that state of being.

        I’d suggest the majority of the transfer payments are in relation to the elderly. Stop funding them so much and perhaps you would have more money for more productive state investments such as for early childhood education.

        • Pascal's bookie 6.2.1.1

          I think the point kind of slipped by you there Gos.

          I’m saying that the ratio of either govt spending (or taxation) to gdp are pretty useless for telling you the size of the govt.

          You could shift all transfer payments out of govt hands, do it by decree. That would reduce that ratio by a huge amount, but the ‘size’ of the government would be, if anything, greater. The govt would be there in all those conditions of contract and compulsory insurances and what not.

          I know people are really enamoured of finding the ‘perfect most efficient ratio of govt spending to gdp’, but it’s a muggs game. It makes no sense at all if you give it even the slightest thought.

          • The Gormless Fool formerly known as Oleolebiscuitbarrell 6.2.1.1.1

            Government spending is about what it was under the last government.

            There is really nothing to get so excited about.

            • Pascal's bookie 6.2.1.1.1.1

              ‘Govt spending’ is a fucking stupid metric, that stupid people use because they are fucking stupid; so yeah, nothing to get excited about, ever.

  7. Bill 7

    So in the blue corner we have the heartless, brainless market with ‘invisible hands’ and natural mechanisms etc.

    And in the red corner we have the despised bureaucracy with its penchant for bloatedness, corruption and general intransigence etc.

    And between them there is us – getting beaten black and blue every time. A bit like a referee in a wrestling/boxing bout struggling to understand that both teams are playing tag and scoring points on the hits they inflict on ‘him’ instead of the hits they inflict on one another.

    The dichotomies of big government versus small govenment and of free market economy versus regulated market economy are absolute bullshit. At the end of the day, if neither the economy nor governance are under our direct control then they will be influenced by those who do control them to serve the wishes of those who control them.

    And that’s the simple yet overlooked nub of the matter – control. Something we lack in the ridiculously limited, but apparently all encompassing, ‘choice’ between big/small government and a free/regulated economy.

    High time for the left to abandon that bullshit frame of reference with its inherent disempowerment and begin (again – and without elevating people to positions where they become fcking ‘gatekeepers’ protecting their own positions and privileges) to formulate empowering solutions to the problems of governance and the economy.

    • r0b 7.1

      I’m interested in your thoughts on where to begin with this.

      It seems to me that the last movement without leaders – Occupy – didn’t last very long.

      So how can it be done?

      • Draco T Bastard 7.1.1

        Gradually. Keep the same system as now but more and more policy out to referendum. As people get more engaged in governing themselves they get better at it, at understanding the complexities etc. This opens the way for more referendums and more participation within the decision making process until we eventually get rid of the present elected dictatorship and have full democracy.

      • Bill 7.1.2

        sheesh r0b, where to begin on my thoughts of where to begin within the limitations of a comment!

        Forget about ‘occupy’. Don’t know if you read my post at the time, but I wasn’t exactly enamoured by the NZ expression of ‘occupy’ and its professed ‘democracy’.

        Perhaps the fundamental problem is one of attitude. Too many people defer to percieved authority without questioning the legitimacy or agenda of said authority.

        So step one might be to rediscover what democracy would mean in every day life and (at least) refusing to accept as democratic anything that was less than democratic. And then practicing democracy in whatever spaces we can find with a view to infecting the wider economic and political environment with our new found habits.

        Workers collectives and housing co-ops can be very democratic environments. They simply need to be set up. The ubiquitous ‘committee’ in your local neighbourhood that is usually a dead space occupied by old fogies running agendas ‘for the good of the community’ that no-body gives a fck about can be envigorated and democratised ie, opened up and its (usually anachronistic and heirarchical) decision making processes overhauled. Any group or club or association you might belong to can likewise be democratised. And the same holds for political actions/campaigns.

        Bottom line? Get to undertsand what democracy looks like.(It ain’t that difficult) View it as a virus and keep injecting it into whatever bodies you encounter. And where you can’t do that, at least call bullshit on any anti-democratic tendencies within any bodies you might be involved in.

        And then it’s all ‘acorns and trees’ and a shift in what we view as acceptable and unacceptable.

        • Colonial Viper 7.1.2.1

          Nice.

        • SpaceMonkey 7.1.2.2

          Reads to me like you’re all advocating culture hacking to some degree or another… I like it! I’m convinced it is the way to go.

        • r0b 7.1.2.3

          Don’t know if you read my post at the time

          Yes I did, as I now recall.

          View it as a virus and keep injecting it into whatever bodies you encounter.

          Interesting analogy, but most viruses aren’t exactly beneficial to the host.

          Sorry, I still don’t see it. You seem to be saying “build it and they will come”, which is a wish, but not a plan. I don’t see anyone building, and I don’t see any masses coming. I don’t see any plan.

          If a comment is too small – give us a post on this – or a series of them, if that’s what it takes!

          • Bill 7.1.2.3.1

            Interesting analogy, but most viruses aren’t exactly beneficial to the host.

            Yeah well, it is just an analogy afterall. And like all analogies, it falls over if pushed. But it ain’t being suggested that democracy is or should be beneficial to the host’s proclivity for heirarchy, domination, marginalisation or their theft/concentration of power.

            Interesting that you interprate what I said in terms of ‘build it and they will come’. That undermines everything from the get go. If ‘they’ come, then the implication is that they are merely following or believing something -a blueprint perhaps? – with the inherent subordination that ‘following’ implies. Democracy can only be about actually doing, developing, experimenting and refining systems, procedures, frameworks etc. There is no hard and fast formula beyond (perhaps) acknowledging that which is not democratic and (where possible) rejecting it and, somewhat on the other hand, striving to increase inclusion and participation by a ‘rule of thumb’ whereby a persons’ input to decisions is somewhat in proportion to the effect decisions would have on them….(No effect? No input.)

            • r0b 7.1.2.3.1.1

              Interesting that you interprate what I said in terms of ‘build it and they will come’. That undermines everything from the get go. If ‘they’ come, then the implication is that they are merely following or believing something -a blueprint perhaps? – with the inherent subordination that ‘following’ implies.

              OK

              Democracy can only be about actually doing,

              I don’t see it happening. And since it isn’t happening (at a time of desperate need) I don’t see how it can happen (if leaders and blueprints are automatically self-defeating).

              Thanks for your thoughts on this – I’m off line soon until Saturday.

              • Draco T Bastard

                I don’t see it happening.

                IMO, it’s not happening for two major reasons:
                1.) The present system is actively preventing it as it was designed to do
                2.) The majority of people are in a state of learned helplessness and don’t know how to change that

                It’s the latter which requires leadership ATM but once we get people engaged it should continue by itself. It will require a fairly major culture shift though so it won’t happen over night.

  8. tracey 8

    I think society and allits citizens would benefit greatly if groups like Business NZ were atually driving the country… don’t you?

  9. Gosman 9

    “…refusing to accept as democratic anything that was less than democratic”

    That could be quite interesting to see. By interesting I mean freaking hillarious.

    • Bill 9.1

      Well, I guess if you could actually see thought processes and attitudes then yes, it might be interesting to see. Can’t imagine it being hillarious though. But anyway.

      • Gosman 9.1.1

        Lot of things are undemocratic. Making them more democratic doesn’t necessarily make them better but can make them unworkable or at least ridiculous. The Occupy movement was an example of that. The Human microphone was incredibly funny.

  10. Wayne 10

    The “large” governments of Europe are generally in serious trouble (Noway has oil, so is an outlier). The “small” governments of Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States are generally doing better; all have positive growth. Two have left governments, two have right governments, though in reality they are all quite similiar – except the US, which is fundamentally more conservative. National would comfortably fit within the Democratic Party.

    • Colonial Viper 10.1

      What a fucking laughable joke comment. Who cares where “growth” is if its the banks and plutocrats who are the ones skimming it all off?

      As for your comment that the US has “growth”, yeah growth in 46M food stamp recipients and growing.

      • Wayne 10.1.1

        Hardly a comment that addresses the issue of the difference between Europe and Aus, NZ, Can and the US – have a look at the unemployment rates for instance.

        • McFlock 10.1.1.1

          Ooo, yes, lets:

          Country / Region
          Unemployment rate (%)

           Liechtenstein
          1.5

           Isle of Man
          1.8

           Norway
          3

           Luxembourg
          5.2

           Australia
          5.4

           Germany
          5.4

           Denmark
          6.2

           Czech Republic
          6.6

           Netherlands
          6.6

           New Zealand
          6.8

           Canada
          7.3

           Sweden
          7.3

           Finland
          7.6

           United States
          7.8

           United Kingdom
          7.9

           Slovenia
          8.7

           Poland
          9.9

           France
          10.2

           Italy
          10.2

           Hungary
          10.7

           Estonia
          10.8

           European Union
          11.1

           Latvia
          11.3

           Slovakia
          13.7

           Lithuania
          13.8

           Ireland
          14.9

           Croatia
          16.4

           Spain
          25.1

          Basically, even when we ignore mineral-rich Norway but include mineral-rich Australia, you’re still full of shit.

          [edit] damned if I can sort out a table, though 🙂

          • rosy 10.1.1.1.1

            Good list for pointing out that Europe is not a country, McFlock, and despite the EU there are still country-specific policies. Austria has 3.9% unemployment, from you link – but I think it’s about 4.5% now. No oil or gas to speak of, just a policy of jobs first. [large .pdf link]

            Principles of the Austrian labour market policy:

            – Reduce qualitative imbalances between supply and demand by promoting the creation of new and safeguarding of existing jobs;

            – Reduce gender-specific segregation in the labour market;

            – achieve and maintain full employment; this means a sustainable integration in adequately paid jobs on the primary labour market for workers to gain a livelihood;

            – take active measures to improve skills in the widest sense of the term aimed at reducing unemployment, securing employment, helping people take up work, and supplying suitable workers to business and industry;

            – to the fullest possible extent ensure equal opportunities, contribute to eliminating gender segregation on the labour market with a view to reconciling work and family life;

            – enhance transparency on the labour market to accelerate and optimise the matching of supply of and demand for labour;

            – develop human resources by offering early outreach and support to businesses on issues that (might) have an impact on the labour market, by helping resolve questions of staff recruitment, skills training and shifts in working hours, and by devising alternatives to structurally-induced redundancies;

            – altogether, give preference to activation over passive income provision to the unemployed. But the latter’s livelihood must be ensured by the prompt and proper payment of benefits they are entitled to. Conversely, any wrongfully claimed benefits must be claimed back without delay;

            – counteract long-term unemployment induced social marginalisation, especially among older workers, by taking comprehensive measures. Assist individuals thus affected with activating their personal skills and finding access.

            Also 90+% union membership and a council that checks legislation for effects on jobs. It’s recommendations must be taken into account by parliament.

            • xtasy 10.1.1.1.1.1

              rosy: You have some worthwhile experience, and I agree, we must focus on REAL facts and figurs, and what matters.

              The NatACT brigade here always cite and go on about the “Greek disaster”, not informing about the true reasons and background that what caused Greece to be down the ladder. They like to portray the whole of Europe as a basket case, like to some degrees the conservatives in the UK have tried for years also, but they ignore, that the most successful trading nations they depend on are regulated Mainland China, also regulated South East Asian economies like Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam and the list goes on. So what is all this Friedmansian crap they tell us all about really doing. It is brainwashing the average NZer to think “there is NO alternative”, if you do not what we say, you will be “doomed”, facing “ruin’ and worse. That is what NZ has been fed for decades now.

              It is up to the NZers to start thinking, is this real, honest, or is this not rather bull-shit?

              Sadly with the hopeless media in this country, the Nats have it going all their way. It is a bloody DICTATORSHIP. I am waiting for SIS to see me tomorrow and lock me up for this comment!

          • Wayne 10.1.1.1.2

            Actually proves my point; you had to include Liechtenstien, Isle of Man and Luxembourg to get NZ down to 10th place and Australia to 5th place, though the Nordics all do well.

            • Colonial Viper 10.1.1.1.2.1

              They have better sausage in the northern hemisphere than we do down here. That is the dominating factor.

            • McFlock 10.1.1.1.2.2

              Actually I just ticked any vaguely European country in the list – missed Belgium (7.4%).

              The point is that in your hodge-podge of laissez faire nations vs economies with a brain, the economies you hold up as exemplary look decidedly average.

  11. irascible 11

    Here’s the next level of policy argument we can expect from KeY & Bennett as they echo the policy directions from the Conservatives & the GOP.
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20044862

    Then the worm does turn when the reality bites
    http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/ramesh-patel/growth-cameron-austerity_b_2007552.html

  12. Where the government ends, corporatism begins.

  13. Georgecom 13

    I don’t have so much a problem with markets myself. Depends more what type of ‘market’ it is. I agree with many that a neo-liberalised ‘free market’ or a libertarian ‘free market’ is a joke.

    Markets however have some real advantages. In a socialist setting I’d argue that markets have a real place and significant benefit. They are however subordinated to other democratically determined goals. They are not ends in themselves but must properly and rightfully serve as means to some ends.

    • kiwicommie 13.1

      The true ‘free market’ has no corporations or monopolies (though natural monopolies would still be a problem); only small and medium sized businesses. The ‘free market’ they spin in mainstream economics and the media is just corporatism and fascism renamed ‘free market’. As for libertarians, they only go half the way i.e. they argue that corporations/government are an evil but refuse to follow that line of argument to it’s logical conclusion and work towards the abolishment of both. xD

  14. xtasy 14

    Small government may mean more energy efficiency by less brain involvement. That is another way to look at it, I suppose. Back to caveman age. That will solve it all, I presume.

    • kiwicommie 14.1

      Their idea all along is for the poor and middle class to die off so only rich people are still alive, at which point they will declare war on each other to steal each other’s stuff; and mankind will go extinct when the environment gives up the ghost. Aliens will visit and be fascinated that we wiped each other out over bits of paper. 😉

      • Capitalism rule's 14.1.1

        That is a stupid none sensical idea, if all of the poor and middle class died out then they would have to start working again, and in the process would lose there wealth as industry would collapse, I guess if you really want everyone to be equal that is a logical move.

    • @xtasy
      …it already is solving the problem…I mean…I wouldn’t use future tense on the old “we are going back to caveman mentality”….I believe we have already achieved rather well in that arena…..

      Maybe in a few more millennia we might start to see the problems we are creating by this choice at this time of not using our brains 🙁 😀

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