As governments become bigger, they become disproportionately less accountable.
“The intensity of the sound is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the signal source.” -My Junior year high school physics teacher. (He stole it from Newton.)
“Government accountability to the people is inversely proportional to the square of the increasing size of that government.” -Will Luden
That is the subject of today’s 10-minute episode.
Newton’s inverse square law as applied to sound explains why sounds quickly become quieter as the distance increases from the sound source. For example, if you want to get someone’s attention in the living room, speaking in a normal voice will work. If that same person is across the street, you might have to shout. If they are 2 or 3 blocks away, you will need another method of communication.
Luden’s inverse square law as applied to governments explains why as governments get bigger, they become much less accountable. It is obvious that small, local governments are more accountable than larger state governments. And state governments are more accountable than the Federal government. What may not be as obvious is that each of those governments becomes less accountable the larger they grow.
When I was 12 or so, I noticed that the bottom of the Dr. Lyons tooth powder (yes, tooth powder) left a rust-like oval on the sink. I wrote the company a letter with my observation, and suggested they fix it. I have no idea if they fixed anything, but they responded to my letter with a letter of their own, and gave me two free tins of their product. Not that a 12-year-old wanted any tooth powder, free or not, but that was pretty cool. As a profit-seeking company, they knew they were accountable to their customers.
The larger governments become, in significant part because they need size to give us the things we want in exchange for our votes, the less they need us. The more we get from a larger and larger government, the more dependent we become on that government. And the more dependent we become, accountability at their end becomes less necessary, we citizens eventually becoming bothersome to them. Instead of seeing the citizens as a priority, overly large governments see them–see us–as a nuisance to be worked around. And the more we get, the less likely we are to ask for accountability for fear of upsetting things, and not getting what we want. N. B. Asking for more and more from government is not at all the same as asking for accountability from government.
In a memorable section of John Steinbeck’s “East of Eden”, Lee, the highly intelligent Chinese-American household servant, waxed rhapsodic about the benefits of being a servant. Rather than being humiliated by his position as a servant, Lee sees servitude as a unique position to exercise power over a master who comes to rely too heavily upon his servant. After a long explanation of the benefits of servitude, he captures the downside succinctly. “But a servant does tend to lose his initiative.”
And as we become more and more dependent on government, that government knows what Lee knew: We lose our initiative, allowing the government to do more and more of what it wants, while becoming less and less accountable.
Let’s go back to the Declaration of Independence, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (emphasis added) As governments become larger and larger in order to give us more and more, the consent of the governed becomes less and less important, having been bought and paid for.
Today’s Key Point: To the extent that we can hold our government accountable, we first must hold ourselves accountable. As we ask for more from government, and it responds by being “generous” with taxpayer money, neither we nor our government are accountable. We become dependent, and the government becomes our master instead of our servant. As Lee in East of Eden said, servants do tend to lose their initiative.
- So, Will, what do we do? A. Hold our governments to doing only what they do uniquely well, and challenge ourselves to do our best in every situation and circumstance.
We all want any entity that works for us, the ones that we pay, to do only what they do uniquely well–not just something that they can do–especially with critical tasks. For example, if you want electrical work done because you are putting in new appliances, you would not hire your dentist or a carpenter, even if you thought they could figure out how to do the job. And if your teeth needed work, you would go to the dentist–and work to pick a good one at that. Governments are great at things like national defense, law enforcement and delivering first class mail to rural and remote areas. Those are some things they do uniquely well, and there are likely others. Things governments can do, but they have not at all demonstrated they can do uniquely well, include education, healthcare and transportation. Governments should be allowed to provide these services, but only along with an abundance of competition from the private sector. The government would be miserable at most of the things that we need done on a regular basis, e.g., raising our children, making choices about how to live, and painting the garage. Keep all entities, including governments at all levels, to what they do uniquely well.
Our role is to be as independent–not needing government assistance–as possible by always–always–doing our best. Not that long ago, clearly within my lifetime, people would fight off the need to go on any form of welfare, taking justifiable pride in remaining independent. Remember: the more we take from government, the less independent we are. Today, being on welfare is a goal to all too many people. And that’s a slippery slide.
The bigger the government, the less accountable it is. And the more they are the masters, not the people.
Tell me what you believe. I and many others want to know.
As always, whatever you do, do it in love. Without love, anything we do is empty.
As we get ready to wrap up, please do respond in the episodes with comments or questions about this episode or anything that comes to mind, or connect with me on Twitter, @willluden, Facebook, facebook.com/will.luden, and LinkedIn, www.linkedin.com/in/willluden/. And you can subscribe on your favorite device through Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and wherever you listen to podcasts.
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Will Luden, coming to you from 7,200’ in Colorado Springs.
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