I think you slightly concede the original point when you recognize the state as the balance to the individual. The state is the institution by which the collective makes decisions, but prior to ‘state’ there is still collective. The modern state is the specific institution we have chosen to expedite the decision-making and execution process, but the balance, at a philosophical/ ideological level remains individual and group.
In many ways, the tipping that you refer to, and the expansion of the government, is specifically because individuals feel it is acceptable to attempt to subvert the government (i.e. the agent/ institution of the collective) to benefit their individual wants. There is no personal motivation for an individual to contain themselves against others. I talked to a guy in politics who says he spends most of him time attempting to stop the government passing bills that individuals want sponsored to solve a specific personal problem. When an institution that needs to govern such a large body politic is being used (or is attempted to be used) regularly as a vehicle for personal advancement it seems somewhat self-evident that any kind of functionality will be necessarily reduced.
Although rights travel with individuals it is also incumbent on them to exercise those rights with responsibility and to consider the larger social order when making decisions about how they comport themselves when in the public sphere. I would actually argue that bureaucracy expands precisely because without a social fabric organizing the collective other means emerge to reduce anarchy and chaos and allow people to live in high levels of population density without going postal on a regular basis.
I think that actually is part of the explanatory principle behind your example- in order to ‘reduce conflict’ (put in that way because it doesn’t actually accomplish that in the slightest) governments have attempted to reduce the potential friction points by mandating every minute detail and then making those who govern argue about whether or not each individual act meets the statutes enshrined in law. I would completely agree that it doesn’t make sense, and that the increasing level of conflict is inevitable when predicated on that system. As well, the increasing numbers of details mean that those who govern are able to spend less and less time deciding principles and higher-order issues and more and more time spiraling down into municipal planting hell. (I could make some argument about the connection of the trees to the environmental impact and offsets, but I think that is tangential and time wasting so I’m going to refrain!)
Think about the most recent CEB work actually, the world is too variable to mandate specific process and actions, instead it is incumbent on leaders to set a vision and guardrails within which each individual attempts to reach that goal in the best way they see fit. The difficult in applying this to our current political situation is that we have lost any concept of a shared vision. My fear/ issue with resting too much power with the individual (through reduction of discourse to rights and more specifically individual rights ala Locke) is that when the balance tips too far that direction we lose any semblance or possibility of finding or establishing any kind of shared vision. If we had less people in the world, and lived in less highly dense areas that might work as a proposition, but we don’t. We must find a way to negotiate with those around us and that has to start from some kind of shared hope or expectation that can allow us a guiding principle. For almost 500 years we have been able to rely on systems of governance that reduce variability and contain the chaos around us, largely by pushing specific groups out, and building on their disenfranchisement and deprivation. Unfortunately for that paradigm we have hit several kinds of limits at once and that ideology is inadequate to address the individual and collective challenges with which we are faced. Instead of attempting to control external chaos so the individual can live largely in peace I think one of the new challenges of our time is to teach individuals to personally address the chaos that comes at them so they can deal more deliberately in their choices.
Totally agree with your entire paragraph about big government. Completely. (including the last sentence J)
I think the next time we are in the same place we should sit down and talk about the inequality bit. I’ll go find and read the book and you can elucidate that argument a little more clearly J
I see the possibility you point out about exposing fraud, but at the same time, non sequitur numbers, out of context, are easily misunderstood. Having been involved in academic research I am the first to admit that there is a lot of schlock that should never be paid for (again, because individuals want to be academics and want someone else to pay for it without thinking about the broader applications of the work they do) but I have also seen brilliance in unexpected places, spurred by connections and cross-over that to the uninformed would be easy to point to as ‘waste’ but has moved forward lines of inquiry/ analysis/ innovation that does have real value. Secondly, it is a little too easy for us to label as ‘useless’ funds paid for things we don’t agree with when, again, it may have universal value, or value to a group within society that is deserving of whatever benefit that patronage might provide but without specific context it becomes a waste or a joke instead.
I would be interested to hear your take on how we hope to get some kind of functionality as a state with huge numbers of individuals all competing against each other, with little shared vision and even less goodwill to work together. How do we get to a point where it is possible to have some kind of public discourse around both principles and tactics and what the mechanism for execution looks like while attempting to reduce the apathy that bureaucracy instills both within those who are a part of it (read civil servants) and those who have to deal with it (all the rest of us poor schmucks)?
Still believing in some kind of greater good…