I've written previously about the desirability of drastically cutting the size of state government. Scrap programs and the taxes that fund them. Permanently.Don't just cut the size of a department by 10 percent; eliminate entire departments, fire all the bureaucrats, and sell the buildings that housed them. This is the modern equivalent of salting the enemy's fields.

Skeptical colleagues say, Pat, get real. It can't be done. We have to walk before we can run. Set your goals lower. Build a coalition to scale back state government, forcing departments to justify their funding. Employ modern business practices to make state government run more efficiently. Sounds very, very reasonable. Too bad it has never worked.

Why can't government be run like a business? Why can't we elect businessmen who have proven their worth in the marketplace, who have had to make the tough decisions, and who are familiar with the tools of modern management? Put them in charge and give them free reign to make government more efficient.

Well, the only answers that I can provide are that it has never worked in the past and that government isn't a business.

Farm subsidies are my favorite example of pork barrel programs that have been placed on the path to extinction time and time again only to reappear bigger than ever.

Remember Earl Butz? He was secretary of agriculture during the Nixon and Ford administrations. Butz believed in eliminating farm subsidies completely and lobbied for passage of a plan to do just that. Somehow it was revealed that he told racist jokes in private, and that was the end of Earl Butz, and that was the end of his plan to phase out farm subsidies. Ever since the Earl Butz scandal, farm subsidies have been as sacrosanct as motherhood and apple pie.

Now in the business world, Butz would have simply scrapped subsidies to a business unit that was a drain on the company's capital.

Jack Welch did just that when he reformed General Electric's locomotive production division, which for decades played a distant second fiddle to General Motors' Electromotive Division. Finally, Welch had had enough and told the division that he would sell it or liquidate it if it did not generate a profit. Miraculously it generated a profit and has started to regain market share.

But GE is a private enterprise with investor capital at risk, whereas farm subsidies are obtained by the coercive power of government. In the business world Jack Welch was rewarded by stockholders for improving company profits, even if that meant threatening to eliminate a losing division of the company.

In government all those farmers are voters who lobby incessantly for handouts and tax breaks. The billions that they wheedle out of government is concentrated in the few who benefit greatly, whereas the cost is diffused amongst the many who have neither the time and incentive to fight it nor, the right to suspend payment.

So what's to be done? Here is an interesting exercise for your next gathering of friends when conversation lags. Ask them to tell you what state government "ought to do." Whenever I have asked this question, I have yet to get past two charges - road building and the criminal justice system. Given the option, no one would pay taxes for any other function of government, since everything else can be provided privately, with less cost and more effectively to boot.

This does not mean that the less fortunate, even the destitute among us, would starve or do without life sustaining necessities. It does mean that those services would be provided by the many private charities that abound in our land despite the fact that government has attempted to monopolize and regulate them into extinction.

Non-essential government programs are perpetuated through the acquiescence of the taxpayers because so many of us secretly receive some favored handout or tax break. It is the public equivalence of the Mexican standoff. No one wants to make the first move to end a government program until all the others are ended. If all the programs were ended in one fell swoop and the people were asked (without showing them the current list of programs and departments) what they wanted government to do for them, government would be reduced to...hum, let's see...road building/maintenance and the criminal justice system. We can do everything else ourselves.

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