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102 Northwestern University Law Review 457 (2008)


I start with the question: Why is the national government so large? Or, perhaps, why did we have that long security line at this conference the other night? They might be related questions. There are three possible explanations. One reason might be that problems are big and getting bigger problems of international terror, nuclear proliferation, a complex economy, threats to the environment. If the problems are big and complex, bigger government is a likely response in the modem era. A second possible reason is that we the people want bigger government, perhaps for the first reason, perhaps for a variety of reasons. Hence, we are willing to accept long lines, etc., because we want the government to regulate. A third possible reason, maybe in combination with the other two, is that we have big government because of dysfunction. In other words, we might have big government because of logrolling and compromising in the legislature, because of special interests, as in the Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act and a number of other pieces of legislation, trading off with one another so that the overall size of government gets bigger and bigger as each group is paid off in its own rent-seeking way. Another dysfunctional reason to consider is turf grabbing by federal government agencies. That might be one reason why we have so many security lines. These are possible reasons for our big government, and some of them might be all right, but most are lamentable.

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