The Benefits of Local Government

I was recently trying to explain to a friend of mine some of the basic principles upon which I base my philosophy of government. I was amazed to read a verse this morning (which I don’t remember reading before) that seems to explain one of these principle very well.

“If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, do not be amazed at the matter, for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them” (Eccl 5:8).

Solomon connects the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness with multi-layered bureaucracy that places power further and further from the people. It has been observed throughout history that power has the tendency to corrupt those who have it. Lord Acton wrote, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” His conclusion is that the extent of the power is proportionate to the corruption.

How do we construct a government that reduces the probability of this tendency playing out? By allowing as much power as possible to be held by as many as possible as close to the people as possible. All I’m really talking about here is an emphasis on local government. This gives ownership, responsibility, and accountability to the people and those who lead them. It means that leaders are leading in their own communities so they have a vested interest. The well being of their lives, and that of their family and friends is directly affected by their leadership. And they are directly accountable to the people they are leading.

I would not argue, thought, that there is no need for centralized government and I acknowledge that there are certain matters that are best dealt with at that level. Some believe that an emphasis on local government with more leaders than less is inefficient. I have two responses to this argument. First, I believe local government is much more effective in preventing the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and righteousness, which is more important than whatever efficiency may be in mind. Second, I would argue that the efficiency of a centralized government is an illusion. The further government gets from the people that it is supposed to be serving, the more resources are required to maintain it.

Political Corruption

We find in Livy's The Early History of Rome assurance that corruption in politics in not a new development. It is fascinating that such strategies have changed very little.

"In and out of the houses of patrician families--the 'lesser' families especially--he began  to solicit their support; he reminded them of the favours his father had done them, and urged them to show their gratitude; to the younger men he offered money as a bait; he vilified Servius [the incumbent], and promised heaven on earth, should he succeed."