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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A quick Shotgun poll

After reading the extremely colorful, often confusing and sometimes downright silly comments on several posts over the last few months, I've gotten to thinking about who, exactly, you are, oh Shotgun reader.  It seems clear that some are here with a decided partisan bent; some with a decided ideological bent; and some who just seem generally bent out of shape.

So, just for fun, lets conduct a little poll...

What do you think is the most important goal in political life:

A) To reduce the role of government as much as possible

B) To make government as good as it possibly can be at fulfilling it's role, and get the right people to do it

Answers and explanations eagerly anticipated...

Posted by Isaac Morehouse on October 28, 2008 | Permalink


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I'd say B. Modern developed societies need bigger governments than past ages because its citizens depend on it for certain services. That's not likely to change any time soon.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-10-28 9:15:58 AM


Posted by: Richard Evans | 2008-10-28 9:26:27 AM

Answer "A" seems vague. What defines "as much as possible"? Somehow I doubt that many would like a return to a Victorian era sized government.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-10-28 9:39:53 AM

I say A. B is a rather nebulous idea as the role of government is perceived differently depending on one's political philosophy and we never seem to get "the right people", no matter how hard we try.
I believe that if we strive for A, then B may quite possibly follow as a result of it.
As far as citizens depending on it for certain services, the demand for services seem to keep on growing. We must attempt to wean people from the idea that government is there to solve all their problems and supply their every need.
Just look to the USSR to see how that worked out.

Posted by: Atric | 2008-10-28 9:41:06 AM

Hello -
I would vote "A". The tricky part of course, is the phrase "as much as possible". ZP above refers to the dependance of citizens on certain services. True perhaps, but what are these certain, indispensible services. Is it imperative that citizens be protected from insult, and if so, at what cost? Must we have a government owned and operated radio and television system in the internet age, and if so at what cost?
Obviously, I am suggesting that the CHRC and the CBC could be dispensed with. How many other government tentacles could be severed ithout harming the citizenry? CRTC? Long Gun Registry? Canadian Wheat Board? There are more I am sure.
The mere fact that citizens come to be used to something and therefore perceive it to be essential, does not make it essential.
Interesting question. I will watch the responses with interest as well.
Cheers. Eric

Posted by: Eric MacLeod | 2008-10-28 9:45:06 AM

Rather ironic Eric, in that you referred to getting rid of the CHRC, CBC, WHB and the Gun Registry and other programs without HARMING the citizenry. Rather than doing harm,I believe we would be doing the citizens a favour.

Posted by: atric | 2008-10-28 9:53:06 AM

A, Isaac. You should have split B up into two parts, to capture the rabid partisans. Like this:

B: To make government as good as it possibly can be at fulfilling its core service; and

C: To get our team to run the government, regardless of policy.

Posted by: P.M. Jaworski | 2008-10-28 9:53:06 AM

Well, if I have to choose only between A and B, I choose B. Why? That's easy.

A good analogy to the choice offered would be this: Suppose you are the offensive co-ordinator for a football team and there is a defensive co-ordinator, but no head coach. Now also suppose that the defensive co-ordinator is not very good at his job and furthermore, he keeps talking to the offensive players telling them what to do, resulting in a messed up offence. If he were to just stick to managing the defence, but still was not good at his job, you will lose games. If he were to continue to interfere in the offence, but was good at his job and did it well, you might still be (justifiably) annoyed, but at least you would probably be winning more games.

So now imagine a country where your option A is achieved, but B not. That would be a country where the government was only trying to do the things it should do and nothing more, but not doing it as well as it could or not with the right people. That's a pretty scary scenario, since basic security and the administration of justice is surely one of government's most important roles.

Now imagine a country where B is achieved, but not A. That would be a country where the governemnt was doing more things than it really ought to be doing, but doing them as well as they can with the best people doing it. That's not ideal, but not its really scary.

Now, of course, having both A and B is better than just having one of them and if forced to choose a single priority there might be a C or D that might be better than either A or B, but given a heads-up choice of A and not B versus B and not A, the choice is easy.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-10-28 9:53:13 AM

Fact Check:

I agree. I don't care what government wants to do, or how far they want to go, as long as they are doing it really, really well! Cheers for efficiency and "leadership"!

Posted by: Good Citizen | 2008-10-28 10:04:16 AM

A is the most desirable outcome but it has little to do with "political life". The only "Party" that ran with that platform couldn't beat the Marxist-Leninist Party in the recent federal election. B is actually a middle position reminding me of local politics where the issues were whether or not to contract out water, sewer, or garbage services rather than whether or not local government should have anything to do with them. Missing in your poll is C, which would be something (cynically) like "to grow government to make life easier for all". Most "political life" involves a presumption of B with A factions battling the Cs resulting in the current groundhog day-like quests for power. Politicians generally don't lead, they scramble to get in front of the biggest mob and then pretend to lead. Those mobs are built from many factors, only one of which is "political life".

Posted by: John Chittick | 2008-10-28 10:06:16 AM

One more thought.....

Some people, I think, will choose A for this reason: They think that government almost always (if not always) does a lousy job doing whatever they try to do, so making B your main goal is an exercise in futility. Better to make A the main goal and contain the damage government does. But I'd say that the chances of achieving a minimal government are just as unlikely as the chances of achieving a fully efficient one, so pursuing A might be just as much an exercise in futility. So I suppose the most real-world, practical answer is "it doesn't matter, since neither are going to happen". But assuming that the goal could be achieved, it would have to be B for reasons already stated above.

As for Jaws' option C, I guess that is the one that people might choose if they think that government is highly unlikely to either become as small as it should be and unlikely to become highly efficient. If you have to endure over-reaching and inefficient government, better to be in it than outside of it. It's also this kind of thinking that gets people to push for pork for their own riding. If you can't stop the looting, better to be doing the looting than the victim of it. Which is why, no matter what he says, there is no way a President McCain could stop or even significantly slow down earmarks and other pork barrel spending. The best he can do is deprive his own district of their portion of the slop.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-10-28 10:07:52 AM

Hello -
I have a bit of trouble following the football analogy, especially

" So now imagine a country where your option A is achieved, but B not. That would be a country where the government was only trying to do the things it should do and nothing more, but not doing it as well as it could or not with the right people. That's a pretty scary scenario, since basic security and the administration of justice is surely one of government's most important roles."

It does not seem to me to be a given that the government doing less would automatically have the less done by the wrong people. The Canadian Armed Forces have (with some notable exceptions) produced and promoted capable senior leaders to advise on basic security. The CHRC on the other hand, has always been the playground of poitical hacks, from Fairweather on down. To retain the useless on the ground that all " co-ordinators" are incompetent seems lacking.
Cheers. Eric

Posted by: Eric MacLeod | 2008-10-28 10:08:11 AM

Fact Check, this was multiple choice no boring and idiotic sports analogies or essays required. You must live a very frustrated, confused and boring life.

Put me down for "A) To reduce the role of government as much as possible"

Posted by: John V | 2008-10-28 10:08:29 AM

Does anyone think that things like food inspection, labor standards, or police or fire services should be abandoned? Thats what "A" could imply.

Posted by: Zebulon Pike | 2008-10-28 10:10:36 AM

Fun stuff so far!

Though, as some of you have pointed out, my questions were not perfectly laid out. I chose not to include an option like, "to make government big and all-powerful" because I assumed that nearly all of the readers of this blog would find that an objectionable goal.

Also worth noting, I do not mean that either goal A or B are your sole goal in life, just in your political efforts. Anyway, you all seem to be doing quite well parsing out the flaws in the questions and getting to the main point, which was, more or less, to discover what our different views are here at the Shotgun, and how we think change (I know, the word is poisoned now) is best brought about.

Oh, and who said being a big football fan means one has a boring life? If so, I may be in trouble...

Posted by: Isaac | 2008-10-28 10:16:44 AM

Zebulon Pike:

Astute observation. Option A is obviously open to lots of seperate discussion as to what is "as much as possible". I purposefully left it vague. My goal was not to discover who thinks services X and Y should be done by government and who thinks only service Y, my goal was to discover something more basic - whether you view government as something essentially dangerous and to be limited as much as possible, or whether you view it as something able to do lots of good that just needs to go in the right direction.

I guess it could be likened to a powerful tank, and the question is would you rather reduce the power of that tank as much as you can, or be in the drivers seat to ensure it is used in the best way? A fairly poor analogy, but hopefully it portrays why I left my options fairly vague.

Posted by: Isaac | 2008-10-28 10:22:16 AM


"It does not seem to me to be a given that the government doing less would automatically have the less done by the wrong people."

Nor should it. I did not say it would, nor do I think it would. But the only way to make sense of a choice between A and B is to think of it as A and not B versus B and not A. Otherwise, you are not really choosing between them and just saying "both". So even though both might be possible and both might be the most desireable, "both" is not one of the choices offered.

John V,

The post asked for explanations. If you are too stupid to understand my explanation and incapable of forming one yourself, that's your problem, not mine.

Posted by: Fact Check | 2008-10-28 10:53:36 AM


Football is for the easily amused. That would be you Fact Check, but I will 'splain my choice of A.

There is no possibility that any government of any size can do a good job of anything.

Government is is a collective, a committee, nothing can happen until everyone is completely compromised and miserable

So it follows that the only sensible thing to do is LIMIT THEIR NUMBERS.

And don't forget the power corrupts thingy ... and the fact that most of the types who aspire to government office or any high office are most often inflicted with any or all of the following ... severe narcissism, egoism, psychopathy.

More reasons to limit their numbers and term limits are overdue in Canada.

Posted by: John V | 2008-10-28 11:11:04 AM

A) To reduce the role of government as much as possible

B) To make government as good as it possibly can be at fulfilling it's role, and get the right people to do it

Ok, if "fulfilling its role" means "fulfilling its proper, morally-mandated role," then of course I'd take B: you get a limited government that's good at performing the functions to which it is limited!

(I think somebody -- FC? -- may have made this point.)

If "fulfilling its role" means "fulfilling the role government now tends to assign to itself", that's more interesting. Much of my objection to government is that it is pretty damn bad at doing almost anything it sets out to do (except for killing people; it's decent enough at that.)

Sometimes, the goals themselves are bad, but not always. Eliminating poverty is not a bad goal; it's just too bad the government can't accomplish it.

A government that is maximally effective at accomplishing its (morally acceptable) goals sounds almost like a square circle to me. Would that be a government capable of eliminating poverty? A government that would be able to provide a robust social safety net, while also guaranteeing extensive negative liberties and low taxes?

Hm. Still sounds like a square circle to me.

Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-10-28 11:19:26 AM

But Terrence, why should government be constrained by this burdensome "morally acceptable" standard? If the end they have in sight is noble - i.e. ending poverty, sadness, inequality, bad hair days, etc. - why should they not be free to use any means neccessary to make those wonderful things happen? Isn't it government itself that is to tell us what is "morally acceptable"? I certainly can't think of any other way we are supposed to know...

Posted by: Good Citizen | 2008-10-28 11:34:24 AM

Good Citizen,

That's a good question. I added that on because it was the only interesting way of adding substance to the second alternative.

If the second alternative means "to make government efficient at the roles it normally ascribes to itself," then there's no question I would take the first option over the second. That's because, as I think you're pointing out, government ascribes all kinds of roles to itself, lots of them not very good.

I was thinking of an example like this:

Suppose government could drastically reduce poverty and slightly lower taxes at the same time. It could do this by more efficiently allocating money at poverty (perhaps by channeling it directly to the people who need it, rather than running it through government bureaucracies.) Also, the benefits of lower taxation might also reduce poverty to some extent.

Now I take it reducing poverty is a morally acceptable goal; there's nothing wrong, in itself, with the pursuit of that goal (unlike, say, the extinction of Jewish people, or whoever.) There may be very terrible ways of going about achieving the goal (like killing off all the poor people), but there's something nice about the goal in itself.

So to make Isaac's question interesting, suppose the choice was between the poverty reduction plan I described above and a scheme of even lower cuts in spending and taxation that would not reduce poverty nearly as much, if at all.

That would be a conflict between reducing the size of government and having a government that is very effective at reaching morally acceptable goals (through means that are not totally morally heinous.)

If the world worked like that, it would be harder to be a libertarian.

But I have a hard time making the poverty reduction scheme I described credible. I doubt it's possible for government to do much to reduce poverty, so the conflict I described will never arise.

In the real world, it seems like government has both good and bad goals, can't really accomplish the former very well, and in attempting to accomplish goals of either kind uses means that are at best morally dubious (e.g. taxation.) So s govt that is effective at doing good is a lot like a square circle, in my opinion, anyway.



Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-10-28 12:11:09 PM


Posted by: Pete | 2008-10-28 12:26:29 PM

A) To reduce the role of government as much as possible.


Like in: NO federal government...at all.
Vive le Québec Libre !

Posted by: Marc | 2008-10-28 12:54:47 PM

A of course. Bring on those private/voluntary labor standards, food inspection, police and fire services!!!

Posted by: K Stricker | 2008-10-28 1:15:40 PM

It has to be option A for me as well.

Government, by it's very nature, is innefficient and greedy. I really don't believe you can ever have the 'right' people running it, or a clear 'goal' for it's purpose.

By striving to reduce the size and scope of government, we just may, if we are lucky, end up with B. If you stive for B, you end up with the current mess.

At least that's my opinion!

Posted by: Q | 2008-10-28 1:55:57 PM


Posted by: JC | 2008-10-28 6:54:20 PM

Some of the worst leaders in history, I’m sure, are the competent ones. That is because the more a government does, the more liberties are reduced. The more governments are reduced, the more the amazing creative power of the human mind is unleashed. Creative, and wealth generating, ways of doing everything are much more likely to happen.
I would choose A in all cases. That is because a government that seeks to reduce its size, presumably would always be seeking to reduce its size, and would therefore quickly shrink after any short term expansion. In other words, they would always be seeking to protect, expand, or restore liberties.
Such a government would also, presumably, understand that freedom is not granted by the state. There would be a philosophy of freedom that would guide decisions.
The quote below is from Byron Schmuland, from the University of Alberta.
“Shuffling a deck of cards puts them into a particular order. What is the probability that someone else, sometime in the past, has shuffled a deck of cards into the exact same order? The number of different ways to order a deck of cards is 52! = 8.0658 x 10 to the 67th power. To understand how big this number is, let us suppose that everyone on earth, from the beginning of time, has been doing nothing but shuffling cards and checking what order the deck is in. Let's overdo it, and suppose that mankind has been on earth for a million years, and that the population of the earth was constantly equal to 10 billion. If we can each do one shuffle per second, then the total number of shuffles in history is 10,000,000,000 x 1,000,000 x 365 x 24 x 60 x 60 = 3.1536 x 10 to the 23rd power. This is less than one billionth of one billionth of one billionth of the total number of possible shuffles. By shuffling an ordinary deck of cards, you've created something that has never existed before in the history of the universe!”

When the creative power of the human mind is allowed to freely create, the billions of people, times all the interactions, times time, will result in discoveries and ways of doing things that increase wealth to everyone. Every time we limit that in even a small way, we SIGNIFICANTLY reduce the possibilities!

For example, if even 10% of the 10 billion in the above illustration are not prevented from shuffling, the total number of possible shuffles is 2.8382 x 10 to the 17th power.

A government that fulfills its role, is a government that will have far reaching negative effects, no matter how benevolent that are. The only government we should even consider trusting, is the government that understands the importance of freedom, and as a foundational principle, gets out of the way at every possible opportunity.

Posted by: TM | 2008-10-28 7:30:46 PM

I meant "ARE" prevented from shuffling, not "ARE NOT" prevented.

Posted by: TM | 2008-10-28 7:32:53 PM

A) To reduce the role of government as much as possible.
Posted by: Marc | 28-Oct-08 12:54:47 PM

Would that include the Language Police?

Posted by: The Stig | 2008-10-28 7:46:35 PM

Stricker, like the government regulations that Maple Leaf Foods totally complied with? That didn't end so well. Private inspection agancies could hardly do worse.

Posted by: TM | 2008-10-28 8:28:32 PM

I say get out of the way and reduce the size of government - and restore honest money so A)

Posted by: Faramir | 2008-10-28 10:58:55 PM

Would have to be A for me. They all lie through their teeth to get elected.All break their election promises as soon as they settle in.All power hungry.All know whats good for the unwashed masses. All feel the need to covet most of your hard earned money to fund crap that most people never benefit from.Most people (not all) running for public office seem to be professional busybodies on a never ending ego trip. In my many years of voting I have had high hopes so many times, only to be disappointed by broken promises,higher taxes,stupid laws,more bureaucracy ,political correctness and the pandering to every activist group making noise. Just my opinion of course. Would be a dull world if we all thought alike.

Posted by: peterj | 2008-10-28 11:08:36 PM

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