Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Big government, small government, which is better? That depends on one's perspective

I've taken to scanning some sites listed at bloggingtories because I like to see what issues are being discussed, and to read varying points of view. As with just about any blogging group, I've come across some that I believe to be very well written and reasonable in terms of approach. And I've seen others that have very little to offer, aside from jingoism and juvenile partisan banter.

Most though fall somewhere in the middle, with Gerry Nicholls' blog 'Making Sense with Nicholls' being a prime example. Nicholls, for those who aren't aware, is a former colleague of Prime Minister Stephen Harper from their days with the National Citizens Coalition. The NCC is a neo-conservative think tank which opines on many issues, such as health care, through a decidedly libertarian lens. Nicholls is also the author of, Loyal to the Core: Stephen Harper, Me and the NCC, a book frequently referenced by political commentators.

In a recent posting Mr. Nicholls offered up his views on the virtues of smaller government. The Toronto Star published a column extolling the virtues of "progressive conservatism" with government playing an active role in Canadian society. Stephen Harper's former colleague responded to the column with a letter to the editor which the Star ran. He provides his readers with that response, which says in part:

Big government, after all, means high taxes, burdensome regulations and bureaucrats meddling in the private sector, all of which hamper productivity, retard economic growth and undermine our standard of living. True progress only comes when government is small and when it respects the freedom of entrepreneurs to innovate and create wealth.

I don't agree with Mr. Nicholls, but my disagreement is probably the result of having a different frame of reference, or perspective. I do think Gerry makes some valid points, but the conclusion he draws from them is off the mark for the majority of Canadians in my opinion.

Does bigger government mean higher taxes? Of course it does, the creation of agencies and programs requires funding by way of taxation. Do these agencies with their bureaucrats meddle in the private sector? Yes they do. And it is certainly reasonable to suggest that this meddling does in fact hamper productivity.

But does it retard economic growth and undermine our standard of living? Is government only progressive when it is small, respecting the freedom of entrepreneurs to innovate and create wealth?

Not from where this blogger sits.

I can give a current example, that of locked out and subsequently terminated Cadillac Fairview employees. According to the news I've seen on the subject, unionized workers at the Toronto Dominion Centre have filed a grievance with the Ontario Labour Relations Board, saying:

"I didn't think this company's tactics could sink any lower..."

We'll have to wait for the actual hearing as well as possible appeals before a decision is rendered of course. But that is irrelevant to the debate over bigger versus smaller government. A labour relations board is obviously an example of what Mr. Nicholls calls..."burdensome regulations and bureaucrats meddling in the private sector".

Without the "burden" of having to answer to a government agency, supported by our tax dollars...companies like Cadillac Fairview would be able to dismiss employees with impunity. Fired workers would have no recourse in this NCC world of progress. Business corporations and entrepreneurs would be free to chase wealth and profits without fear of repercussions.

Those of a libertarian bent might try to argue that with smaller government and fewer regulations, that the wealth being created would surly 'trickle down' to the lowly hourly waged workers. That argument holds very little water, 'trickle down economics' does not work. Wealth stays concentrated at the top and wage earners see their standard of living eroding and their lives regressing...not progressing.

Business is hyper competitive, and the power of the all mighty dollar unfortunately trumps more humanitarian concerns. Like old Fezzywig of Scrooge fame....those who treat their workers well and espouse the view that 'money isn't everything' soon find themselves out of business. Their former employees forced to seek employment elsewhere with leaner and lower paying competitors.

As I stated at the beginning, its a matter of perspective and frame of reference. For an entrepreneur seeking bigger and better returns on a business venture...smaller government with less regulation would be an absolute boon. From this narrow viewpoint it could be seen as progressive. But for the larger part of the population, the vast majority in point of fact, it would be incredibly regressive.

Maybe the hyper successful Scrooges, like those with Cadillac Fairview, would have a dream induced epiphany. But in the end it was government regulation and control which brought increased prosperity and progression to the Tiny Tims of this world.

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