Why is everyone so afraid of big government? It has become a tautology that big government is bad in many circles, but nobody ever seems to really explain why. Granted, concentrating power over peoples' lives in one place usually leads to abuse of that power, and that is the obvious answer.
Still, that seems a poor excuse in modern America, right? We're too well-educated and our society is too open for that to happen to any great extent here. (Wrong, actually. Here's an example http://au.ibtimes.com/articles/195991/20110811/timeline-of-fda-raids-on-raw-milk-farmers-dietary-supplement-makers-and-natural-medicine-practitione.htm.) Leaving the abuse of power issue aside, though, there is another even more compelling reason to limit government as much as possible.
Disorder is the natural state of the universe. Everything tends toward disorder, whether we look at a simple chemical reaction, peoples' lives or any given organization or government in the world. It takes a lot of energy to keep any kind of system going. Anyone who has tried to start a business or build any kind of organization from the ground up knows that the world is set up to push you into failing. Size provides some measure of insulation from this-big organizations are more likely to last longer than small ones, but in the end every empire, society and corporation ever created by man has fallen.
There isn't really even a single cause for it. Greed, laziness and general human error of one sort or another are one set of causes, while disruptions from natural disasters, from flood and fire to simple bad luck are another. Rome may not have been built in a day, but the only guarantee, from its very beginning, was that it would someday fall.
Every time an employee falls asleep at a desk or surfs the Internet on the clock, it hurts the company he works for. Every badly made or incompetent decision takes the organization where it was made one step closer to failing. The larger the organization, the more secure employees and members feel about being incompetent, selfish or greedy. Large systems have more room for failure, and can usually support decay much longer than small ones.
There are very few situations that actually seem to improve the quality of an organization. Competition against hardship or a strong opponent is the big one (which is why the free market is successful). Competition tends to drive some people into putting out huge effort, and that effort is the only force capable of actually improving a system. When the effort put into the system is enough to overcome all the weight trying to bring it down, it grows.
Regardless of how much effort humans put out, though, the larger a system grows the more weight it has to carry when it does. The less competition or hardship members of a society face, the more complacent they become.
At this point, it should be easy to see where this is going, so let's just get straight to the point. The bigger a government is the less effective it will be in general. That isn't to say that a large government is completely incapable of effective action, just that the general effectiveness of the government will decline as time goes on.
This is especially true when a government takes over an industry or an area of life. A good example is schooling.
The American public school system is not in a good state, and it is getting worse. Everyone knows it. Everyone sees it. America spends $500 billion every year on one of the least effective, but certainly the most expensive, education systems in the world. Private education in the same arena is more effective for less average money per student by an enormous margin. Home education is an even better system (based on average money spent and the average scores of students).
Any country in the world that has adopted a socialized healthcare system shows the same comparative results. Social entropy is at work in every single system and organization in the world.
So what can we do about it?
The first answer is to keep governments (and any other organization that must not be allowed to fail) from growing any bigger than necessary or from falling out of competition, especially by growing larger and more powerful than its competition. The more people need to compete, the better they will perform.
The second answer is to make absolutely sure that government does not take on any more responsibilities than it must, because really no one can compete directly with the rule-makers in any kind of game, and nothing is as good at propping up a failing system (and keeping a more effective one from replacing it) than government. The best possible outcome for a decaying system is that it be allowed to fail, especially a large one. Why? Because the other rule of thumb is that the larger a system is, the more difficult it is to fix it.
It really all comes back to the second law of thermodynamics. There will always be wasted effort in a system. In human terms, the more wasted effort is encouraged, the more the system will fall apart.
Jared Michaud is a freelance writer living in Wyoming.