The Case for a Smaller Federal Government

This topic came up again in another thread. The Federal government should be smaller. Here is a thread to make that case.

A government by the people deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

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I think the idea of subsidiarity is a good thing. That does leave the question of where an item might fall in the local thru national structure.

Somewhere I’ve got a list of items I’d like to get the federal government out of. My luck, it’s on the laptop that I’d have to hook up to a monitor to be able to see. However, I’ll give 3 easy items that would shave money off the deficit:

Idea #1: eliminate most federal student aid.

Idea #2: eliminate the TSA.

Idea #3: reign in much of what the Federal Reserve currently does, change its primary mission to upholding the integrity of the financial system.

Also something about reallocating defense spending toward domestic defense and support of military personnel and their families, but it’s more detailed than that.

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Considering the number of proponents here I thought we’d have more suggestions.

I’m surprised, too.

On the other thread I said that I don’t think abortion should be subject to federal laws in either direction. Maybe, given something I saw about Missouri, make it clear that you can’t extent your law beyond your state line.

I think the federal gov’t should have a smaller role in infrastructure. If a city wants to build a new water plant, or subway, or bus terminal, that’s on them. Same with roads except for a few really “national” roads that move people across multiple states. And, even then, it’s mostly to get leverage to be sure the roads connect with one another.

But lots of stuff just needs to be national. Foreign affairs, military, tariffs, immigration. I don’t see how you do Social Security or Medicare on a state by state basis. Medicaid is already a federal-state combination. Some with TANF, I think. Help-the-poor programs are subject to a race to the bottom, so we need some federal funding for them. Business regulations for businesses that extend across state lines, to the extent that state governments can’t. I just don’t see a lot of opportunities for rollbacks.

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On infrastructure I agree we can have that be mostly local for stuff like roads, but I think a really good place for federal involvement is the power grid. It’s important enough for national security that you could shift some of the bloated defense budget and something productive with that $ instead of wasting it.

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A Federal Government is also important to keep states from attacking each other.

I think the misstep in these kinds of arguments is that freedom becomes equated with lack of government interference.

Since freedom is taken as the significant end goal of government, small government becomes the end, itself.

This puts the goal of small government above the possibility of any real criticism, except sometimes for extreme cases of national defense or maintaining civil order.

Then it really isn’t a critical position at all. Instead it’s a solution looking for a problem.

I think to convincingly argue for small government, first you have to articulate a concept of freedom that does not tautologically support it.


small government will require significantly larger amounts of personal responsibility, which the vast majority are not prepared to take on. So as much as the small (tiny) minority wish for significantly reduced oversight, we’re not going to get it.


I think almost any law regarding personal freedoms should be decided locally. Marriage shouldn’t be decided by the state because it’s a religious ceremony and the state shouldn’t be involved at all.

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How local is local? Is it the county, the town, the street you live on or should people be able to make up rules that apply to their own property? Are you saying that people who aren’t religious shouldn’t be able to get married?

What do personal freedoms entail in this concept? “States rights” on slavery? Interracial marriage? Banning religious worship? Only state sponsored media permitted?

Marriage shouldn’t be a government affair. It shouldn’t have any ramifications that they need to keep track of.

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The first recorded evidence of marriage ceremonies uniting one woman and one man dates from about 2350 B.C., in Mesopotamia. Over the next several hundred years, marriage evolved into a widespread institution embraced by the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, and Romans. But back then, marriage had little to do with love or with religion.

I think you have it backwards, marriage shouldn’t have anything to do with religion.


As I understand it, marriage had a lot to do with religion, which also had a lot to do with government. But religion was much more a matter of ritual, and not about private conscience as we think of it. I agree that love as we think of it was not much involved.

The problem with this is that you’ve turned democracy into effectively a local poll of moral relativism. You are just measuring what people want, with no larger criteria to judge whether what they want is good or just.

As soon as you introduce that criteria for what is good or just, then you create the possibility to overrule what is locally decided.

In other words, if democratic government is going to have any moral force, then it must have some universality. As soon as you give it that universal moral force, you have to overrule local government in some cases.

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In more recent history, Western European marriages started out as a business contract to establish hereditary lines. According to the book The History of Human Marriage, in the early Christian era, marriage was considered a private matter not regulated by the church or the sate. In fact, the church didn’t fully take over the business of marriage until 1563 at the Council of Trent. Religion and marriage, in the context of history, seem to be newlyweds.

From what I have read, marriage was a private matter in ancient rome.

But so was religion.

Every family worshiped their own ancestors, even as they also worshiped their city’s local gods.

So marriage was not regulated by a universal church, because this did not exist yet. But it was still religious.

Similarly, my understanding of ancient greek and roman cities is that their governments were full of religious rituals and sacrifices. Again it would not have been in charge of marriages like the christian church was. Women were effectively owned by the patriarch of the family, and the husband, so the government was not involved in that sense. But it was religious ritual involved in both marriage and the government. It was certainly not a secular affair as we think of it.

Got to be kidding me.

So a wife can be imprisoned for contempt of court for refusing to testify wrt her husband? No more court ordered alimony or child support? Bye-bye filing joint returns.

I’ll take a hard pass on that one.


All that can be prespecified in a contract.

Your objections assume marriage is must exist.