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An Impractical Guide To Small Government

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Part 1 -- Return to Critical Thinking

by Ruth Catchen

The federal government has grown in scope and complexity, and its inefficiencies and inequities sap the freedom and vitality from a nation that was once seen by many of its citizens as the greatest on earth.   Its very size hobbles its most noble roles as champion and protector of individual rights, as champion and protector of equal opportunity, and as champion and protector of the common good.   Well-funded interests have contributed to the complexity of government, creating a few big winners and millions of losers.   Many ideas have been put forth to address this issue, most of which suggest a return to some point in our history.   I reject all such regressive ideas, because our very history has led us directly to the mess we're in today.   We need a new solution.

   I have that new solution, offered to you here in just three steps.

Adopt critical thinking as a national value.

Apply reason at the most fundamental level to assess every public policy.

Simplify every public policy so that it serves the people and nothing more.


Don't look for quick fixes here; real solutions will take a very long time.   Short of another bloody revolution, generations will pass before our little tangle can be unraveled.   Quick solutions are the domain of politicians who make empty promises to gain electoral leverage and power.   Distrust anybody who claims that today's political and economic problems can be solved by quick fixes.   Distrust anybody who advocates solutions that take us back to some magical point in our history.   Instead, understand that real solutions are likely to take a century or more.   After all, the real problems evolved over millennia of human interaction.   We can only get a clear picture of the problems we face when we look directly into a mirror. 


In a state of nature, according to Thomas Hobbes, human life would be "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."   Unlimited freedom leads to lawlessness and dominance of the powerful, and this comes from the very depths of human nature.   The Social Contract, by which free people gain civil rights by accepting the obligation to respect and defend the rights of others, is necessary to deliver us from our own nature.   I believe that the ideal government is the executor of this Social Contract.   Government must be strong enough to defend the rights of its citizens, but not so strong as to usurp those very rights.   Government must be right sized.

Okay, you may have figured out that these concepts were lifted from Rousseau, Kant, Locke, and of course Hobbes.   Their thinking largely defined the Age of Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries, during which reason and individualism began to ascend over tradition.   I'm not proposing a return to the 17th century, but a look at the valuable philosophical concepts that can help us sort out our 21st-century problems.   Remember that these people were the progressive fringe of their day.   Their biggest problems were the twin tyrannies of monarchy and religion, both of which had ruled for centuries with oppressive authority.

This bunch of radicals loved reason -- critical thinking, as we call it in its more developed form today.   This age not only produced reasoning philosophers, it also produced the founding fathers of the United States, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution.   Francis Bacon espoused empirical logic, and among those he influenced were Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson.   Yes, they were among the philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment, and we can learn much more from their shared way of thinking than we can from the documents they left behind. 


You may have guessed that I am a progressive.   And although I may wave the flag and declare my affection for the founding fathers, I do so in a way that must be carefully qualified.   Neither the Magna Carta nor the Mayflower Compact, nor the Declaration of Independence, nor the US Constitution, nor the Bill of Rights, nor even Age of Reason are sacred writs.   Each of these reflects the age in which it was authored, and the failures of each respective age.   For all of their many virtues, these manuscripts are carriers of the viruses of slavery, racial bigotry, sexual oppression, aristocracy, conquest and subjugation, and religious dogma.   But the thinking behind each of these documents is worthy of honor; I insist upon drawing a distinction between innovate critical thinking and the fruits of that thought from any particular age.

Let me also confess that I am a capitalist.   More specifically, I believe in  free-market economics, provided that a framework is present to ensure fair competition for resources.   I believe that we need a basic understanding of economics in order to apply critical thinking to political problems with any positive effect.

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Years ago I made a decision to commit to a life of business management. Kids do the dumbest things! After thirty five years as a small business consultant, CFO, and university educator specializing in quantitative business and economic (more...)

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Critical thinking is one of those expressions that... by R. A. Landbeck on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 4:59:49 PM
Mr. Landbeck, I agree that critical thinkin... by Larry Butler on Tuesday, Oct 22, 2013 at 8:52:25 PM
You forgot to mention Henry George amongst the lis... by David Chester on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 9:21:49 AM
Mr. Chester, I agree that a land value tax makes s... by Larry Butler on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 8:01:47 AM
That 'musty old document' was the RESULT of critic... by Larry Hooten on Wednesday, Oct 23, 2013 at 1:15:55 PM
Whoa, Mr. Hooten - I'm certainly not blaming our f... by Larry Butler on Friday, Oct 25, 2013 at 8:12:49 AM