Big Government Never Works – Take This Tour of History to Find Out Why

While progressives push for bigger, stronger and more invasive government as the answer to our problems, history is full of examples of big government failures. In fact, the most common result of "big government" interventions has been a failure to solve the targeted problem, plus a new set of problems resulting from unintended consequences.

President Johnson's "Great Society" was supposed to eliminate poverty and promote civil rights and integration. Instead, not only has the percentage of people living in poverty stayed relatively constant for 40 years, Johnson's Great Society is considered to be the major cause of the destruction of the American black family, with the resultant crime, illegitimacy, and uneducated black youths. 

Another example is the nationalization of education under President Jimmy Carter, with the creation of the Department of Education. Concerned about falling test scores and global competitiveness, President Carter made the Department of Education a cabinet level department with the stated mission, "to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access."  Unfortunately, after spending more than $600 billion on primary education over the last 30 years, and with spending rising steadily even today, student performance has been essentially unchanged. The problem is that other countries haven't remained stagnant but have, instead, improved their student's performance in math and science, putting U.S. students farther behind than before the Department of Education was created. In short, the Department of Education didn't fix the problem, it has made it worse!

And don't forget the successes experienced by the Native Americans under the close tutelage and control of big government. 

But if we accept that the people who created these programs did so with good intentions, and were some of our "best and brightest," why such a record of dismal failure? The answer is that "big government" doesn't work. And, as long as man runs it, it is not going to work!

And the reason is pretty straightforward. Leaving aside the propensity of big government to attract and retain crooks and scoundrels, big government fails because of simple mathematics. With a small government, say on the order of a village, government leaders know and understand each of their subjects. As such, they can reasonably balance the different needs and wants, desires and wishes, of the inhabitants with the resources and choices available. Choices such as whether to plant more corn or raise more cattle can be made so as to achieve the maximum level of satisfaction, with the least resistance, and the fewest unintended consequences. 

But, as the size of the governed community grows, the amount of data needed to develop a "best" answer grows exponentially, and the time required to gather that data, and monitor the effects of decisions for undesirable effects can become impossible versus the time constraints. Gathering the data to decide whether a nation of 300 million people should plant more corn, or raise more cattle may take several months, and the "best" decision will be made too late for it to be put into effect. 

Stark examples of such problems were laid bare after the breakup of the old Soviet Union.  It wasn't that Soviet planners responsible for central planning were incompetent, it was just physically impossible to gather data, make plans, and execute those plans in a manner that matches reality

And, it isn't just one decision that has to be made under the big government model. All aspects of living are governed and controlled by the state, so the manner in which the minutia of life are conducted have to be decided and communicated to the population. 

To give an example, if a nation of 300 million people are going to make 10 decisions per day that require resources or planning (what to eat, what to wear, buy a book, etc), which are mutually exclusive (two people can not eat the same apple), a staggering number of decisions have to be made if all the people are going to be satisfied. If each "choice" is binary (yes or no), more than 300 billion decisions have to be made to satisfy the population. If the central planners want to offer three choices for each decision (brown, black, or white shoes for example), then the number of decisions increases to 17 trillion. 

And remember, that is each and every day. And, in order to make sure the people are happy, our central planners need to know what they are going to want far enough in advance to schedule the factories and shops to produce it. 

You can see why central planning offers any color you want, as long as it is black.  

In reality, what happens is that central planning devolves into central control, where government dictates to the people what they are going to get, regardless of what the people want or need. Under the Great Society, big government decided that single mothers needed assistance, so every single mother was offered financial support, even those who deliberately avoided marrying the fathers of their children. As a result, it became financially advantageous to have several children without naming, or even knowing, who the fathers were. And having the fathers involved with the children meant a reduction in child support, so, under the Great Society, a generation of children grew to adulthood without knowing their fathers, or seeing a male role model. By the time the bureaucracy learned of the problems, the American black family had essentially been destroyed. 

While progressives promote the idea that bigger, more powerful and intrusive government is the solution to the many problems we face, the wise citizen will look at the track record of big government "solutions" and question the promises being made. Our futures are too important to be turned over to a system that simply can't work. 

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Steve Curtis

Graduated Princeton University with a BSChE. Worked in industry for 20 years, then started a safety and environmental consulting company.

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