Why is the nature of government to become larger and more powerful? Unless a government gets overthrown or goes bankrupt, it seems to always be growing. This happens whether it is a national government or your local village town council. What is it about government that growth is just natural?
I contend that it is not government, it is the nature of people, in particular those employed by government or elected to government. I recently wrote an article on people and their self-interest. Although many of us claim to have a community interest, when push comes to shove, the community interest is really self-interest which just turns out to be aligned with community interest. That is, it is in our self-interest to see the community succeed. If you buy that argument, then it is clear that government employees may have an expressed goal of helping the people, but in the background is their self-interest: Self-interest in having a job and in having some impact on a part of society. This latter element is key. People believe in what they are doing in a job and to do a better job, they believe they need more resources. So a lot of time spent in a job is directed toward increasing resources to include more money from taxpayers and more staff to do the job. Of course, those underneath that leader feel the same way so they also look for ways to convince each other and the taxpayer that the next project is key to progress and, sometimes, survival. We can’t possibly protect the food supply without further inspections and inspectors. The only brake on all this activity is the taxpayer and that is not much of one.
All that happens when budgets get tight is the bureaucrats start telling the public that firefighters, policeman and teachers will have to be laid off. Not knowing any better, the public buys the argument and scrounges for more tax dollars. Meanwhile, the economy suffers because none of the government expenditures are building product that people need or want. Of course, they know they need the security of firemen and policeman and they need the services of teachers, but they have no way of knowing whether all of government is needed. It usually isn’t. And no one knows if there is a less expensive way of getting the job done, as they would in a true competitive environment. Schools are the best example where private schools often do a better job at less cost. So our little bureaucracies just keep growing and growing with no counterbalancing force because the taxpayer has no choice but to accept the words of need from the civil servants.
The human nature aspects of building little empires is not unique to government. The same would be and often is true in for-profit companies. But they have counterbalancing forces, two of them to be exact. They are competition and customers. With competition, companies always have to be looking for ways to save money or else their competitor will find those ways and undercut their prices in the marketplace. So even though there are little empires in business, they won’t last forever as economic reality will eventually uncover their inefficiencies.
Customers too simply will not buy a product that is too expensive no matter whether that expense comes from the company having too many people or a poor design to the product. Without customers, a company will not long survive so again the company will be forced to look at ways to save money. Rooting out company bureaucracies is often needed and that typically happens with a major layoff where excess people are cut from the workforce. It may be brutal and it may cut some good people, but the company eventually finds it can survive without all the little bureaucracies. After they are gone, people being people, those bureaucracies will start to surface again but maybe this time management will realize these bureaucrats were not needed. Usually that is true until times are so good that management gets careless. Then the cycle starts over. But contrast this with government where this shedding of bureaucracy seldom if ever happens. As Reagan said, “Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we'll ever see on this earth." Instead, government just goes back to the taxpayers for more until the government eventually goes bankrupt. Cities are experiencing this now and the Federal Government is not far behind. Most states have constitutions with more discipline, excepting maybe a few like California.
We need to understand this phenomenon of human nature: People’s propensity to promote bureaucracies for their own self-interest. Then we need to minimize government because there is no counterbalancing force to keep this human frailty in check. Business has the signal to keep their bureaucracy under control: It is called profits. Free enterprise is the solution to most problems and we need to use this technique to solve as many government problems as possible.