Least vs. best

Column by David Cox

Every now and again, namely in every election, one or more candidates runs for office on the platform of small government.

It’s an appealing notion, of course. Commended by Mr. Jefferson, it betokens less government interference and lower government cost: “That government governs best which governs least,” goes a statement whose origin nobody really knows.

Far be it from me to commend outsized, out-of-control, over-the-top government. But let me suggest that those who favor small government for the sake of small government miss two points.

First, good government is efficient government. Just because a government is small doesn’t mean it can’t waste money like the big boys. Though the size of waste may be smaller, the percentage can be even greater, in some cases precisely because it is too small to provide the services or the oversight to ensure efficiency.

Second, good government is effective government. It’s big enough to get the job done. It does what the people expect it to do, from paving roads to providing schools to protecting the population. A government that is so small or so strapped that it cannot fulfill what the people expect is simply not effective.

A case in point: If your friendly local DMV office is so small that you have to wait a few hours just to register a vehicle, you might yearn for at least a slightly larger government that can tend to your needs efficiently and effectively.

So how can we develop a more efficient and effective government? Here’s my suggestion of the day: Have every agency review every regulation and program to assess whether it is still needed, cost-effective, and/or worthwhile.

Facing budget cuts arising from shortfalls in state funds, I asked the local director of a state agency what might be trimmed that may no longer be useful. This thoughtful person took a moment to consider, then suggested one effort that is now being met in a different way. That’s the kind of thinking I hope will occur on every level of state government.

I realize my suggestion will take time to implement, and some cost. But I think it’s worth the time and effort.

In taking on new projects that today’s needs demand, let’s look at what we did yesterday that may not work for tomorrow. Let’s see what missions have been accomplished, what goals met, or what goals no longer apply.

Governments, like attics, accumulate what might generously be described as stuff: Can we undertake a good, thorough spring cleaning? The result can be a more efficient, effective government.

And, not so incidentally, by removing obsolete rules and regulations, life can become a bit more efficient and effective for businesses, non-profits, and everyone else.

Maybe we can turn the old phrase around, and you heard it here first: That government governs least which governs best.

  

David Cox is the Democratic Party nominee in the 24th Senate District.



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