Good Government Means Less Government


More: The Rediscovery of American Common Sense, by Raymond Q. Armington and William D. Ellis, Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 233 pp., $12.95 paper

This Way Up, edited by Raymond Q. Armington and William D. Ellis, Chicago: Regnery Gateway, 163 pp., $6.95 paper

The battle for the free society must be fought on many fronts and with many weapons. A pair of books, More and This Way Up, are important additions to the arsenal. Raymond Armington and William Ellis have produced two benignly insidious volumes that contrast the realities of the marketplace and the bureaucratic state in the common language of practical people—those saner members of society who have better things to do than study formal economics.

Nobel Prize–winning economist Milton Friedman's many popular works discuss economic theory in persuasive, everyday language. In More, Armington and Ellis take a slightly different approach. They use anecdotes and newspaper clips, interspersed with pithy quotations from the likes of Revolutionary War essayist Thomas Paine or Abraham Lincoln, to drive home fundamental political and economic truths. Then they give their readers down-to-earth ideas for straightening out the dangerous mess they believe America to be in.

Recalling the words of labor leader Samuel Gompers, the authors remind us that "the objective of labor is…more!" Their book charts out a route to enable Americans to make more money and to keep more of it. In their very first chapter, Armington and Ellis make the critically important point that economic improvement requires economic freedom, and that economic freedom is contingent upon political freedom. In case their practical audience believes that achieving political freedom means electing "our" people to positions of authority so that they will dismantle the state, the reader is reminded of Evans's Law of Politics (after journalist M. Stanton Evans): "After our people get to the point where they can do us some good, they stop being our people."

The road to more is not good government but less government. So the authors tell us to fight government bureaucracy always and everywhere and to limit government by supporting every sunset law that would dismantle government agencies after a specific period of time. They tell us to put officials on the defensive by backing every movement to overhaul the civil service and to keep our political chastity by refusing all government "help"—noting the conclusion of Alexis de Tocqueville, the French 19th-century writer on democracy in America, who remarked that the American republic "will endure until its politicians learn that its people can be bribed with their own money."

Armington and Ellis go on to explain that progress and improvement can only be achieved by reducing government control and intervention and by utilizing the democratic power of the free economy. Government, they note, does not create jobs for unskilled blacks by pricing them out of the market with minimum-wage laws. Nor does it end poverty and dependency by constructing a welfare state. And it does not provide security for the nation's elderly by forcing people to join a fraudulent state retirement system that would land its architects in the slammer if they tried to peddle it in the private sector.

But it's no good just complaining and getting mad—get even, say Armington and Ellis, by advancing specific proposals and by getting involved in the battle. Put the squeeze on government by joining tax-limitation campaigns. Attack the welfare-poverty complex by supporting Milton Friedman's negative income tax, advocating more generous charitable deductions, and by volunteering yourself. Build up pressure on your congressional representatives to replace Social Security gradually with an honest retirement system based on Individual Retirement Accounts. And if you are not sure how to roll up your sleeves and get started, follow the step-by-step political action plan provided by the authors.

More is an ideal book for the small businessman who is frustrated by red tape, the farmer who works harder and gets poorer, or the auto worker who goes into shock when he sees how much in taxes has been taken out of his paycheck. More won't just tell each of them why the country got into its current situation—it will tell them what to do about it.

This Way Up takes the general themes of More and turns them into a handbook for local officials who want to revitalize their communities. Its message: draw on the power of the private sector by contracting out or privatizing local services. Privatization is a custom-made vehicle, write Armington and Ellis in the introduction, for such people as the municipal problem-solver, the young reformer, the mayor who is sick of strings-attached grants from Washington, and the candidate seeking the dream platform of lower taxes with better services. Privatization enables costs to be cut because it "puts into your hand the ancient power and efficiency of the ability to shop around."

The book brings together a group of experts who put together action plans for privatizing a number of basic local services: mass transit, public housing, fire protection, garbage collection, hospital care, wastewater treatment, and day care. As the editors emphasize, "The chapters are not philosophical tracts, but working manuals on how to proceed with specific privatization." This Way Up is complete with draft forms to solicit bids (just fill in the blanks), step-by-step evaluation procedures to break down the cost of services, and hard-nosed case studies to let officials learn from the successes—and the failures—of others.

Yet This Way Up is more than a "how-to" book. It is also an invaluable source of documentary evidence for anyone engaged in spreading the privatization gospel. There is plenty of meat here for op-eds in the Wall Street Journal, letters to the Anytown Citizen, or speeches from the stump. REASON's editor, Robert Poole, for example, gives a detailed, but highly readable, survey of the economics of mass transit, drawing on a wealth of evidence from this country and abroad to demonstrate that the "real hope for improved transit lies with introducing decentralized, flexible, private transportation alternatives." Lou Witzeman, the pioneer of private fire protection, gives the reader an excellent history of private fire departments and a comprehensive cost analysis of private versus public delivery. Nancy Peterson, editorial director of Waste Age, provides a wealth of information on the economics and management practices of America's 10,000 waste-handling companies.

This Way Up joins E.S. Savas's Privatizing the Public Sector, Robert Poole's Cutting Back City Hall, and many articles in the growing literature on privatization. Moving "government functions" into the private sector is no longer an abstract concept. Each successful example persuades more officials and voters who rely on practice rather than theory. This Way Up, by combining extensive documentation of existing privatization with a handbook for local officials wishing to adopt the strategy, will add new momentum to the privatization campaign.

Stuart Butler, director of Domestic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation, is the author of Privatizing Federal Spending (Universe Books, 1985).