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.