When Henry David Thoreau wrote ”That government is best which governs least,” he was referring to the more noble and immediate issues of freedom and liberty from government control. But limited government is more than that, since it is structurally incapable of creating what we now call “The Deep State,” which among many malign affects is completely opaque to any oversight of its spending. When the state becomes a certain size, it acts as a recursive system, without any checks on its internal growth.
Here is a particularly unpleasant example…feel like puking? U.S. Foreign Assistance to Afghanistan: Fiscal Year 2022, was $3.8 Billion. Why? Because programs are funded seemingly in perpetuity because of the inability of Congress to oversee the millions of separate expenditures that it approved a few years, or a few dozen years, or a hundred years ago.
Wait…did I say “inability?” How silly of me. They have abrogated their role as the country’s budget overseer and ceded that authority to the many departments and divisions of the labyrinthine federal government. It is impossible to know how our money is spent, and they do not care a whit, as long as they are reelected and get their cut.
But back to Afghanistan! When the national sport of that country is killing foreign soldiers, the idea that we are spending one cent of American money on even the most wonderful humanitarian aid is galling. But the inertia of those thousands of departments and divisions of the Leviathan is more powerful than any silly little notion of honor and integrity and even realpolitik. They will spend because they must spend, so that they get their yearly bump so they can spend a bit more in the future, and on and on and on.
Never mind that we are bankrupt. Never mind that the typical American would be appalled by its government spending money on a country that has been the focus of incredible anti-American and anti-Western sentiment and terrorism.
Anyone care to wager whether that amount will go up for fiscal 2023?
I think back to The Naval Act of 1794, which authorized the building of the first six ships of the post-Revolution United States Navy. The plans were approved by President George Washington! There was direct oversight of the project, and when there were cost overruns (what a surprise!) Congress actually began an investigation. A real investigation.
The dream of all real conservatives is the dismantling of the hydra of the federal government, but that will never happen. What can happen (though it probably won’t) is control of the overall budgetary process by a real conservative president and congress. Simply by ending the expected growth in budgets we could force greater accountability in government. The heads of the many departments would be unable to spend without thought, and might actually consider efficiency, quality, success, and other archaic ideas. Even if they don’t, growth would end, and there would exist the faintest possibility of economic growth that would eventually allow us to reduce the unimaginable debt.
Yes…you may have some of what I am smoking.