“Small government” may be a catchphrase of conservatism, but it is only one side of the coin that buys a healthy society. Limited government is not an indisputable good, but rather a means to an important end. This end involves keeping space in public life for the institutions that promote human flourishing, and the maintainance of those institutions is a grand American tradition. As Tocqueville wrote:
Americans use associations to give fêtes, to found seminaries, to build inns, to raise churches, to distribute books, to send missionaries to the antipodes; in this manner they create hospitals, prisons, schools…Everywhere that, at the head of a new undertaking, you see the government in France and a great lord in England, count on it that you will perceive an association in the United States.
The conservative view of limited government is less about chopping down trees—metaphorical or otherwise—and more about trimming back the overgrowth to give room for businesses, community organizations, and religious institutions to grow and flourish. With that in mind, here are a few of the private-sector solutions that have solved problems in both the public and economic spheres using innovative methods.
While federal student loan debt rises to the forefront of popular concern, Starbucks has made other plans. The nationwide coffee shop has announced a plan to pay for its current employees to finish their college educations online through Arizona State University while they work for twenty hours or more at Starbucks, according to USA Today.
On another controversial front, President Obama used an executive order to raise the federal minimum wage for federal contractors in February. He has urged Congress to set the federal minimum wage at $10 per hour with the goal of decreasing poverty. The Oklahoma-based corporation Hobby Lobby, however, has been raising the minimum wage for its workers on an annual basis for the last five years, and its full-time hourly workers have been paid $14 per hour since 2013, reports the Christian Post.
Even in transportation, private industry has provided role models. The Western United States is usually a model of what not to do in large-scale transit, and California is particularly notorious. Google and its fellow tech companies have tried to take workers off the overcrowded streets by providing them with a bus system.
Other examples abound, yet many are such self-evident parts of a community’s well-being that they are easily overlooked. For example, religious institutions are the largest avenues for volunteer work in America, and they produce money and momentum that help the poor of both body and spirit.
Talk of limited government, whether by decreasing business regulations, slowing growth of entitlement programs, or even avoiding violent foreign entanglements, should only ever be half of the conservative conversation. The flourishing of local associations wherein people band together to solve their own problems is essential to democracy. Private enterprises must do the good work of “government by the people.”