May 27, 2013

Another View: Big-government advocate used extreme examples in column

Conservatives do support government -- one that does not overreach and run up debt.

By John Voyer

In his May 14 column "Maine Voices: You get what you pay for: An adage that also applies to government," Bruce Webb attacks conservatives for denying the need for larger government and higher taxes.

However, Mr. Webb sets up an unrealistic straw man. He says that conservative advocates for small government should examine the plight of people living in poor countries in Asia and Central America.

He lists a number of government services that fall short in such countries -- education, infrastructure, health care, environmental protection and law enforcement -- and mentions the lack of economic opportunity there. One that he does not mention, but that I would add, is a legal infrastructure to enforce contracts and other commercial rules and laws.

However, only anarchists on the extreme left and survivalists on the extreme right would advocate no government, which is close to what Mr. Webb describes. Conservatives do not object to the kinds of things he lists, which are all basic government services that provide security and the setting for economic opportunity. They don't even object to the taxes needed to fund those services.

What troubles conservatives (and some moderates) are overreaching government policies that create dependency and stifle innovation and economic opportunity, and that create unsustainable levels of government debt.

Even Thomas Jefferson, the Founding Father with the strongest reputation for limited government, understood the need for government services and the taxes to support them. Like Jefferson, today's conservatives merely want a better balance between the public and private sectors.

John Voyer is a professor of business administration at the University of Southern Maine.

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