So, leave it to two libertarian authors to write a book about how small government types need to learn to at least see the usefulness of government. William Eggers and John O'Leary have written the book If We Can Put a Man on the Moon: Getting Big Things Done in Government, and the book tends to set a few of their fellow libertarians off:
"I don't want to make government work better, I want it to go away" is the typical response. Government, in their view, is the enemy.The essay is a superb description of how libertarians and conservatives could actually make limited government, good government. They also show five things that government have done well (think moon landing) and somethings it did really bad (like Katrina).
This way of thinking is deeply misguided, a troubling blind spot that keeps libertarians on the fringe of many policy debates. If you reflect only scorn for government, it's hard to get anyone who hasn't already drunk the Kool-Aid to take your opinions on the topic seriously.
This is not to disparage the argument that government is too large, for which the case is strong. But holding government in sneering contempt is a misinformed corruption of that sentiment.
Our Founding Fathers, fondly quoted by limited-government advocates, didn't view government as evil, but as a flawed institution with some important jobs to do. They studied how government worked and they served in office, not because they viewed government with disdain, but because they knew the importance of good government.
This is the problem I have with some conservatives who tend to think we should have done nothing as the economy and the stock market were imploding in the fall of 2008. TARP might have been a bad idea. I wasn't crazy about giving money to General Motors of Chrysler. The Stimulus Package was a monstrosity. But while these were bad ideas, that doesn't mean that we should not do anything. Being a native Michigander and having two parents who worked for General Motors, I know about hard times in the auto industry and feared what would happen if a company as huge as GM failed, taking the Michigan economy and perhaps the entire nation's economy with it.
It's been fascinating to see what is going on across the pond among Conservatives in the UK. Over there, they seem to be figuring out ways to make government more efficient. Read their ideas about the "Shoestring Manifesto."
Of course, we have thinkers over here that have some good ideas for providing a good government at decent price, but as Ross Douthat notes, we don't yet have candidates willing persue those goals. It seems to me, we need to create mechanisms, that would seek out such candidates. Maybe then conservatives can get back to having a healthy skeptism of government.
By the way, Reason Magazine interviewed the authors. Give it a watch:
Crossposted at Republicans United