Let’s not start out by declaring our opinions, e.g., “We need a big government. ” or, “A small government is exactly what we need.” Instead, ask two questions: 1. What needs to be done? and 2. Of those tasks, which are the ones that government does uniquely well?
When we start the discussion of the proper size of government with, “How big should government be?” it is inevitable that we will wind up in a verbal brawl with some people pitching for a small government, others arguing for a big government with the folks who see themselves as the reasonable peacemakers taking a middle position. And we’ll get nowhere. With apologies to Shakespeare, “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the answer, it lies in the question.”
An acquaintance of mine, a motivational speaker and author, is fond of saying, “If you want better answers, ask better questions.” When I first heard him say that, it made absolutely no sense. C’mon, most questions are direct and understandable, what could be wrong with a question like that? But I had enough respect for him that I experimented and, over time, found that he is absolutely right. Let’s experiment a bit together and see if his recommendation works here.
- What are the tasks that need–need–to be done, accomplished, in our community, state or country? And what are the priorities?
- Of those tasks, which are the ones that government does uniquely well?
- What are the resources needed for those defined and prioritized tasks that government does uniquely well? The answer to this question will tell us how a government, local, state or federal, needs to be. We are approaching the answer logically, by responding to a series of defined questions.
Answering Question 1. What are the tasks that need to be done, accomplished, in our community, state or country? And what is the priority? Laying out the tasks that need to be handled might take some amount of time–the list of tasks is long and getting longer–but that part will get done. Remember, this is a list of all the things that need to be done, whether by government, individuals, corporations, whatever. It’s a list of tasks that needs to need to be done, regardless of by whom or by what. Prioritizing is much harder, but vital. We will always live in a world where the list of wants and needs is endless, and the resources to meet those wants and needs have known limits. The process is straightforward, and hard; make the list, prioritize it, then apply the known resources to the list until the resources are exhausted. Yes, of course, from time-to-time you can find ways to add to the pile of resources, but with or without additions, resources are always finite. And the list of tasks, of wants and needs, is virtually infinite.
Answering Question 2. What are the tasks that government does uniquely well? Note that we are not asking what tasks can only government do, nor are we asking what is the complete list of things that a government is capable of doing; we are asking what are the tasks that government does uniquely well. And who would want government–or any other entity–to do something that another organization can do better? That’s why we emphasize the phrase “uniquely well.” For most people, defense, law enforcement, and firefighting, all fall comfortably into the what government does uniquely well zone. And, for most, various forms of entertainment, from movies to water parks, would fall well outside that uniquely well zone. Education is somewhere in between. There will be people who argue that education falls in the uniquely well zone, and others will disagree. Education is like most items on the list of tasks in that it will generate disagreement and discussion. But at least we have defined the questions, and have created tools, a handle, for guiding the conversations as we disagree about education and so many other things, and learn from each other in the process. We are asking and answering the question, in this case, is education something that government does uniquely well? And we can ask and answer that same “uniquely well” question about the other tasks on our list. This gives us a debate structure, a format for the discussion. We have focused, defined questions. We can then bring in facts that pertain to those questions. Facts–the law call them evidence–not biases or opinions. Then we apply non agenda-based logic to those facts to answer the question at hand. This process guides us. This process will lead us to vigorous, on-point-discussions, and reasonable conclusions. We will no longer be relegated to saying, then yelling, “Small government”, “Big government” at each other like rows of TVs; always on broadcast, and never on receive.
Do you agree with, “If you want better answers, ask better questions.” I’d love to hear from you about this line of reasoning, this process for thinking through the proper size of government question–as well as all of the other questions facing us as individuals and a nation.
Results With Reason publishes two podcasts and related blogs each week; midday on Tuesdays and Fridays. Twice a week, every week.
Now it is time for our usual parting thought. For us at Results With Reason, it is not only change your thinking, change your life. It is change your thinking, change your actions, change the world. And if you can do it in love and enjoy the people around you at the same time, all the better. And if we, you and I, don’t do something, then the others who are doing something, will continue to run the show.
Remember: Knowledge by itself is the booby prize.
Will Luden, writing to you from my home office at 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.