THE FEDERAL LEVIATHAN: IS THERE ANY AREA OF MODERN LIFE TO WHICH FEDERAL GOVERNMENT POWER DOES NOT EXTEND?
The steady growth in the size of government as a percentage of GNP has been one feature of the last century and certainly the last 50 years. The scope of federal governmental power has expanded and grown even more rapidly than its financial size. Conservatives and libertarians express dismay over this. At times and in some areas liberals are not much happier about it. Yet in many ways— financial, legal, ethical, and practical—more and more of our citizens feel that much of this government is either vital to an acceptable society or at least necessary to avoid unacceptable injustice. Even those who feel government does more than it should see no practical way to significantly reduce its size given the financial and moral commitments we have made as a society.
To many others, as we use the federal government to protect or aid our citizens we often find that seemingly desirable goals expand into programs which may reach far beyond those goals. Is that expansion a serious problem? If so, is it nonetheless the inevitable cost of providing such necessary protections? Is such growth inevitable in practice? Is it possible to pare back? Or must we accept that a government of a certain size will be much as this one is? Additionally, for many conservatives and libertarians there is just too much government. For some liberals, the cost of some government programs has become bloated and increasingly blocks or makes unaffordable those things which government really should do.
To explore these questions we will examine the role government plays and the goals it has tried to achieve in the areas of civil rights, the criminal law, and the environment. We will examine both what it did initially and how these efforts have developed over the years. We will discuss various complaints about “crony capitalism,” “strings attached to federal money,” and the problems linked to entitlements. All of these greatly increase dependence on the federal government and concomitantly its power. But are the powers exercised here simply the necessary component of providing our citizens vital services which will otherwise not be offered in a fair and reliable manner? And finally, while this conference is focused to a large degree on the federal government, it will also explore how many of these problems are just as serious or more serious at the state level. In other words, in each of the areas touched on by our panels, is the problem a federal government problem or a challenge posed by government at any level?