John Steward of Jesus
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The risk of big government

May 24, 1980

In debating the pro and con of big government, one cannot be satisfied to debate it in the abstract. One must consider the historical record and, on that basis, consider the probability of benefit or disadvantage or disaster.

The question is similar to the questions whether one’s young children should talk with strangers, whether young girls should accept candy from kind men, or whether women should pick up male hitchhikers. There are many other similar examples. In each case, it is irrelevant to debate whether, in a particular situation, one can prove danger. There is probably more statistical likelihood that the stranger is innocent, or that the hitchhiker is harmless (probably more than the likelihood that the proposed government will always be benevolent) than that these specific individuals are a real danger. But numerous case histories point out the tragedy which follows when the danger is real. Most human beings decide that the extent of the danger, even coupled with the low probability, makes the risk too great.  They avoid the danger like the plague, as a matter of policy. They do not debate the character or background of a particular hitchhiker. They do not argue with those who assert that most strangers are harmless, or that it is discriminatory to deal with all in a mariner conditioned by the danger of the few. Such debate would miss the point--that the combination of all factors makes the risk too great.

So, in the debate regarding the growth of government power in all areas, we miss the point if we debate the good intentions of a. politician, whether a particular group has real needs, whether there are existing abuses in social structures, whether one minority has needs greater than another, whether there is some disproportionate allocation of resources, etc. We must consider the big question— whether, in view of the historical record regarding the performance
of governments which have acquired strong controlling powers, we are willing to assume the risk to receive the benefit. History seems to demonstrate that the risks are far too great to make the benefits attractive enough to be worth that risk.