Government: Less is More

Posted by: on Sep 7, 2006 | No Comments

Why do governments fail? Why are governments everywhere the butt of jokes? In the US, comedians regularly make fun of the president and the gargantuan federal government he heads.

Is it because the politicians and bureaucrats are inept? Would we all be better off if we just threw the rascals out? Would the new persons put in their place do the job any better?

No. The politicians and bureaucrats come from the same genetic stock as you and I. Merely changing the people would hardly have any effect.

Politicians, after all, have superior communication skills which enable them to be elected and become our leaders. Similarly many of the bureaucrats are experts in their fields and worthy of our respect.

Then, are all of them corrupt? Many of them are, but again many businessmen are more devious than politicians and government employees. If these people, presently in business, were given government jobs they would be no less corrupt.

The fault lies not with the people in government, it is the system and the magnitude of the tasks which it takes upon itself that makes the government corrupt, inefficient and unmanageable.

Worldwide, companies which face competition are realising that you can be world-beaters only if you specialise and stick to your core competence. You cannot diversify helter-skelter into every conceivable business and do a good job.

That is why we see Nokia specialising in cellphones, Toyota in making cars, Hyatt in running hotels and Boeing in making planes. What about the governments? They take on too many tasks and hence it becomes impossible to do any of them well.

If the government is going to run telephones, hotels, mines, banks, buses, airlines, duty free shops, universities, research institutions, TV and radio, newspapers, textiles, airports, sugar factories and so on, in addition to performing its function of protecting the lives and properties of its citizens, what are we to expect? No better performance then what we are seeing now.

No man or superman on this planet can do all these tasks well. It does not matter who becomes our prime minister, it does not matter whom he appoints as his ministers, it does not matter who our bureaucrats are.

The gigantic size spawns such complexity that it makes the government beyond our understanding let alone be manageable. MP’s first elected, whether it be in India, Nepal, or the UK are overawed by the House and its byzantine systems. It takes years for them to comprehend government; forget monitoring or controlling it.

Governments have grown too huge to be manageable. Even the smallest government is too big to be run efficiently. The communist regime of tiny Cuba manages in a manner where its people prefer braving death in home-made boats to cross the straits of Florida to get to the US. Can we expect any better from control-oriented governments of other countries?

Any government which spreads itself too thin by trying to do everything, can neither be competent, nor be strong. A powerful government is the one which delivers, which is capable and efficient, and this can only happen if it sticks to a few basic tasks and performs them exceedingly well.

The government of Hongkong came closest to this ideal of being small, and restricting its role in the economy. Hence, its spectacular performance came as no surprise.

What are the few tasks which are required of the government? Its job is to provide us with security, law and order, a method of resolving disputes by being an impartial arbitrator, and to legislate basic rules and facilitating regulations for business.

These functions require that the government protects us from criminals by having a police force, protects us from domestic terrorism and foreign invasions by having an army and establishes law courts to settle disputes swiftly. There is not much else the government is required to do or should take upon itself. Let the government first do these tasks to the satisfaction of the people of this country before it tries to do anything else. Let the government just do this and the people of this great country will do the rest.

The Boss

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