Over at Reason there is a good article from Peter Suderman titled “The IRS Targeted Conservatives Because It Could“. The whole article is worth reading. However I want to highlight a very important point Peter makes:
But I think that critiques that focus on the government’s size miss an important factor. This isn’t just a problem of bigness or smallness. It’s a problem of power.
When public servants have the power to make life difficult for narrowly defined groups of people—their political enemies, or disfavored causes, or people on the wrong side of a national discussion—they’ll end up using, and abusing, that power. It’s all but inevitable, whatever the reason. Sometimes they’ll do it because they’re out to punish their foes. Sometimes because they honestly believe it’s the fairest and most reasonable way to do their jobs. Sometimes because they’re mean and petty people. Sometimes because they think they’re making the nation a better place for all. Sometimes because they’re instructed to do so from on high. Sometimes because they’re not given enough instruction. Sometimes because they’re just plain incompetent.
It’s not that the reasons don’t matter at all. They do. But in some ways the particular reasons miss the larger point. Power will find a reason. It always does.
This is an important concept for anyone that thinks the government has gotten too large. It is the power used by government officials that stifle social and economic freedoms. There is no direct correlation between the size of the government and the amount of coercive power that same government uses upon its citizens. For example, if half of all government employees were removed from the taxpayer payroll tomorrow that would not mean the coercive power of the government had been reduced by half. Actually the opposite may be true. The coercive power of each government official or employ would have actually increased because there are fewer entities to share that power with.
Going forward those fighting for ‘small government’ must keep in mind that power must be reduced along with the size of government. In regards to the IRS scandal this lesson is very important. Freedom activists should now be fighting to reduce the overall power of the IRS, and not simply trying to ‘hold someone accountable’. Without power being removed from the IRS these same scandals will continue to happen time and time again.