Limited government can be bad

Published 7:00 am Friday, February 26, 2016

This week is Peace Corps week. I know this because I got an email alerting me to the fact, although truth be told, I think about the program nearly every day.

I participated in Peace Corps twice — first in Haiti for six months and then, after our evacuation in 2004, I served in East Timor. In both countries, I had the privilege of serving in remote villages without cell service, much less electricity or running water. That part of it, the separation from technology, was not difficult. There were difficulties, including loneliness and frustration, but those changed, the first yielding to the second over time.

It’s a well-worn cliché among volunteers, that the experience changes the volunteer far more than the volunteer can change his or her community. For me, the changes included basic habits like diet to more complex shifts, like my political understanding. For instance, before Peace Corps, I drank sodas and ate junk food and fast food like most people but, after going without those things for years, I’ve lost all appetite for such things.

Politically, I have seen the result of ineffective and bad governance. I have seen what a world with no government looks like. In East Timor, that world looked like a place with few paved roads outside district capitols. It looked like a world with few police officers and where crimes — petty and grand — could be committed without much fear of reprisal.

Mostly though, it was a world in which fair number of good people would never get a chance to go the U.S. (everyone’s dream) because they no education in the Western sense, no skills valuable to the U.S. and, worse, they had no money. So, they were stuck in East Timor or, perhaps, Indonesia next door — places where people could die from a bad tumble from a mango tree or from treatable forms of cancer or from a crocodile attack while washing clothes.

I, of course, was not stuck in East Timor and after living there for years past my time in Peace Corps, I returned to the United States. I returned home in 2009, just in time to see the economy implode.

The political ramifications from that implosion are still shaking out, but to me the strangest result of the recession was a surge of popularity in the notion that no government is good government, but less government is better government.

For sure, bureaucracies can be cumbersome and inefficient and are only as good as the people who make up their office. But the notion that less government equals more freedom strikes me as plainly false.

Of course, anyone who would like to see how such a libertarian utopia might function can certainly do so. The Peace Corps is signing up volunteers now.

Jesse Wright is the managing editor for The Daily News. You can email him at, or call him at (985) 732-2565, ext. 301.