I have more than a few compassionate and caring friends who are upset by injustices related to corporate greed. I think most of them would agree that the bigger the company, the bigger the potential for the company leadership to succumb to corporate greed and take advantage of their employees and even their customers. It is like the old adage, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Small businesses are rarely the perpetrators of big scandals.
Some of these injustices are major. Movies have been made that chronicle serious illnesses like cancer and black lung that were caused directly or indirectly by corporate neglect. Watch a season of Law and Order and you will see multiple references to corporate greed that leads to horrible misery. Anyone who has lived in an apartment building knows someone who suffered because of a landlord’s neglect. Today, laws govern toy manufacturing to ensure that dangerous materials (like lead paint) don’t make it into the mouths of our children. The federal government has the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to oversee workplaces to make sure that employees are not exposed to hazardous materials while trying to do their jobs.
To this point, we should be able to agree that corporate greed is bad and some government regulation is good, but government is not, in and of itself, the solution to the problem. In a free market society, we consumers have the power to influence corporations with whom we disagree. We have the option to make purchases from other companies. We can shop around and effect change with our spending. If the gas station on the corner is charging too much, we can go to another gas station. If the hamburger stand is unsanitary, we can eat at another restaurant. This is one of the benefits of having laws against monopolies. Competition breeds success.
Some of my friends, however, do not think that the influence of the common man is powerful enough. They seem to think that government intervention is the only way to effect change—or at least the primary way. When they hear or read that I believe that the best government is a small government, and that personal liberty is inextricably tied to personal responsibility, they reply that I am naïve, foolish, and/or greedy. They accuse me of not caring for the poor. They vilify me and tell me I am selfish. They do not just disagree with me, they disagree vehemently.
I don’t understand their cognitive dissonance. If we can agree that larger corporations are ripe for larger scale corruption, why can’t we agree that the largest “corporation” in the world, the U.S. Federal Government, has the potential for the most corruption? The U.S. Federal Government is a monopoly. If we don’t like what it is doing, we can’t simply shop for another government. We are stuck until the next voting cycle. As we have seen over the past 4 years, a lot of money can be wasted. It takes a lot longer to earn 16 trillion dollars than it does to spend it. Is it so hard to imagine that when the U.S. Government gave stimulus money to Solyndra—a green jobs manufacturer that promptly went bankrupt, a large part of that money went toward lining the pockets of Solyndra owners rather than to offsetting production costs or funding research? While I love our troops, can anyone remember a year when the department of defense was not criticized for wasteful spending?
Having worked for the federal government and with state governments (in two different job capacities) I can tell you I have seen corruption, fraud, waste, and abuse first hand. The more layers of government that are involved, the more money you will waste because you not only have to pay the person who does the job, you have to pay at least two layers of supervisors to make sure the person doing the job is doing it correctly and not misusing government funds. This brings to mind the recent GSA scandal and the DOJ porn scandal, as well as wasteful earmarks for research projects like the stimulus funded research into pig stench and the infamous road to nowhere. This is not specific to an individual party or administration, it is a universal truth that applies to government at all levels.
When I say I want smaller government, I don’t want to settle for the current, bloated government to “seek out and reduce fraud, waste, and abuse.” When they do that, they actually waste more money hiring people to look for the people who are wasting money. We need to actually cut spending that does not fall under the constitutional authority of the federal government. Art is good, but we do not need a National Endowment for the Arts. Sesame Street is good, but we do not need a Public Broadcasting Station. Unbelievably, some of my friends get mad that I would suggest we cut these good-but-wasteful programs. Then they tell me I have no respect for senior citizens and wounded veterans. Perhaps we could fund compassionate programs better if we did not have such big bureaucracies overseeing them. A smaller, leaner government is a healthier, less-corrupt government.
(As an aside, I am 100% certain that Big Bird and his friends on Sesame Street—as well as other quality programs—will find a new home on one of the major networks within hours of a PBS shut down.)
The past 4 years have seen the greatest expansion of government in American history. Yes, I am intellectually honest enough to recognize that the previous 8 years come in second place. Both administrations were wrong. Today, 47% of Americans live on government assistance. While many of them have earned it through hard work and long life, many others must be encouraged to seek self-sufficiency while they are young enough and healthy enough to contribute to society.
Tomorrow is election day, and while we can’t be certain if Mitt Romney will expand or shrink the federal government (he promises to shrink it), we can be sure that President Obama will continue to grow the government at the same rate he has been growing it so far. It is not too late to fix our economic woes, but we can only do so if the government shrinks down and lets the private sector generate more income. Tomorrow, when you vote, will you vote for a smaller, more responsible government?