Complex Government

I’m not against “Big Government”, and frankly, I don’t think you are either. Even the most extreme of us (that still believe in some form of governed society) expect the government to protect us from physical threats to our safety, and that alone makes it massive. Unfortunately, it also leads to systems that no single person can understand, and that’s the real problem.

I’m against complex government. The complexity of our laws and institutions allows things to hide, costs us as taxpayers, and ultimately undermines confidence in our shared institutions.

The spending bill that just passed the house and senate was fought over by people concerned with “Big Government”, and consequently does nothing to address complexity. Buried in its 1603 pages are all manner of arcane clauses. There’s a finance provision, forged by lawyers for Citigroup, designed to cut the bindings that Dodd-Frank (itself impossible to understand) was supposed to create. And possibly more insidious, a section slipped into the back of the bill increases the amount of influence wealthy individuals can have by bumping up certain campaign contribution limits tenfold.

The concrete effects of these clauses will be extremely difficult to measure, in no small part because the systems they modify are already complicated and riddled with loopholes. But that – ironically – makes the broader implications clear. The special interests and lawmakers writing these laws have no interest in clarity or transparency, and so there won’t be any. Wealthy individuals will discreetly wield even greater influence, large financial institutions will make risky bets at taxpayer expense, and the other groups that got something appended to this bill will take their money and leave us with a more complicated, less efficient system. And if that’s not a recipe for disillusionment, I don’t know what is.