The Technium

Growth vs Evolution

We seek personal growth. But when we say “personal growth” we don’t imagine us getting bigger, say gaining weight, or our ego enlarging, our head ballooning, or somehow we becoming giant in some way. Instead when we invoke “personal growth” we imagine an evolution where we improve, we get better. We might use the metaphor that we are become more like ourselves, truer to ourself, so maybe in that way you could say that there is “more of us.” But the image of a friend or relative today “growing” and then in 10 years they now have “more of them” is usually not what we seek. More of them may be too much, because it implies more of the parts no one likes. We might settle for “more of the best of them” which brings us back to the idea of evolution and improvement. Metaphorically, we want to be a better version of ourselves in the same space we occupy now, without become a giant ego, or an overbearing giant persona.

However when we speak of governmental growth, we immediately imagine government getting “bigger,” gaining weight, becoming obese, enlarging, ballooning, infiltrating until it occupies the space. We don’t tend to imagine government getting better, improving. That is, it accomplishes more, or new things, or it accomplishes better things. What we want, of course, is for government to evolve, to become truer to itself, to accomplish what its goals are with fewer resources, more fairness, generating new benefits. Do we ever see that? We certainly do see many examples of governments in all parts of the world and in history ballooning, growing in the way that the insult “big government” intends, where there are more people doing less, more layers doing less, and more regulations preventing the new and better.

But over the long term, we do see examples of governance — social institutions supported by taxes — improving and evolving.  Compare any two equivalent shaped governments today versus 100 years ago. Let’s say the small town government of Springfield, USA. What it accomplishes today is fantastically more complicated and sophisticated than 100 years ago. Society has increased in complexity, so the governance has also increased in complexity. (See taxes). Intricate building codes regulate the safety of all those living in homes, which has decreased death and injury. Safety overall is increased, despite the fact that we have more exposure to high powered machines from cars, trucks, tractors, elevators, etc. We all live longer on average in part due to regulations. We have an increased number of services and opportunities were are managed. A libertarian will argue all that goodness has come at the expense of governments being involved in aspects of our lives it was not before: in the way it regulates what we eat, what we wear, how we farm, and so on. This regulatory presence is perceived as a loss of freedom. So the libertarian equation is since the government is present in more aspects of our life it has “grown” from little to big, and our freedom has been reduced from big to little. And sometimes that is true. But not always.

If societal and governments can increase longevity, than those extra years it gives us are new freedom we never had before. If they can reduce unfairness, then the equal opportunities they generate are new freedoms for us on average. Sometimes new laws are worth the trouble of operating them.

What we want is for government to grow in a personal growth way. We don’t want it to get obese with easy sugary regulations, to get heavy with impulsive reactionary laws, with mindless fear-based expansion (like the militarization of police roles), with bureaucratic creep. Instead we want government to grow by tackling new problems, by automating what can be automated, by using outside audits on efficiency, by having more responsive management to people, by removing corruption as much as possible, by doing more better.

The reflex we should constrain is the reflex to “shrink” governance as a way of making it better.  It’s like advising someone to shrink themselves in order to grow. It would be strange to say “To get better, whatever you are doing, do less of.”  Certain aspects of governments certainly can become bloated, and there should be mechanisms to counter that tendency. But growth in the right directions can entail expansion. So we don’t want to stop the growth of government. Instead we want to evolve it.

Just like personal growth, improved government is hard to do. But just like personal growth, government growth is possible to do.


© 2023