Excessive government reliance is universally corrosive
At a recent dinner in Honiara, capital of the Solomon Islands, a friend commented on the unprecedented and increasing level of government dependence in the idyllic South Pacific nation of half a million. National elections, taking place at the time, were about how much the Solomon Islands could do for you rather than what you could do for the Solomon Islands (to muddle John F. Kennedy’s famous words).
This trend is not just confined to ‘the Happy Islands’ – it’s clearly a discussion taking place among rich and poor at dinner tables around the world. Annual budgets in neighbouring Australia, for example, stir pockets of outrage that the ‘government should do more’ or ‘is not doing enough’ in areas it wishes to ease spending taxpayer money.
Political leaders now spend considerable time preparing citizens for a ‘killer budget’ – as if preparing for major surgery or going to war. In the United States the government routinely plays the role of ‘Santa Claus’, in the words of one commentator, by showering ‘the public with something for nothing in every department – free health care, free retirement security, free protection from hazardous consumer products and workplace accidents.’
Certainly, from crumbling roads to lousy policing, state performance leaves much to be desired in the developing world. But, regardless of where we are, excessive government dependence is a growing and ultimately harmful trend.