I like David Brook’s piece on government and trust this morning. I have been talking here about a similar but very related phenomenon. New Brunswickers are far more reliant on government that at any time in the past – over 500,000 get cheques from the government (not literally most through direct deposit). For every dollar of employment income, the average NBer gets 19 cents of government transfer income. We are more reliant on government employment, more reliant on government spending on education, health care, etc.
Yet, we don’t particularly like government or trust it to do the right thing (I won’t list off the many policy issues that have roiled people in recent months/years).
This paradox is fascinating to me.
I’m not a big government guy – I don’t hide it. I have questioned why we need a non-means tested health care system where the richest get the same benefit as the poorest. I know it seems to be sacrosanct but I never really understood it. In fact, I don’t really understand the lack of means testing of public services in New Brunswick more generally. I’d like to live in a world where we were less reliant on government but had assurance it was firmly there when needed. There are myriad examples – in health care I can get everything from simple blood tests for free but when my friend’s daughter comes down with a very bad type of cancer, he’s out of pocket for drug costs. Crazy. I’d rather we all pay for the little crap – tests, doctor’s visits, etc. and pool the money to cover the catastrophic.
But I don’t have a loathing or deep distrust of government. I think many decisions are made badly but I differentiate between the two.
Just like Brooks, I think government does become beholden to special interest groups – some more directly and others more indirectly. And like Brooks, I don’t believe the easy convention that is this just about ‘big business’. He uses the example of the seniors’ lobby but I could reel off dozens. In fact, I am a special interest group – pushing hard for a set of ideas that, if implemented, will cost the government money and resources.
We need to expect that any person or organization that will benefit or be hurt by the actions of government will attempt to influence policies one way or the other – and these days (read my first paragraph) that means just about all of us – from the CFIB to the CTF to the CARP to the business lobby.
I think we need to have a government that has a clear outline of how it wants to govern and where it wants to take the province (or country). I would encourage government to diligently limit the impact of special interest while realizing it is a part of the democratic process. Any lobbying that has obvious pernicious effects on the whole to the benefit of the few should be avoided – even at political cost.
The rest of the lobbying – environmental, seniors’ groups, university advocates, the CFIB, public unions, chambers of commerce, party donors – whatever – should be expected and placed in the proper perspective. These voices are jockeying for position out there but the greater good does exist and all the lobbying should be put through the grinder of the greater good.