Measure of good government lies in restraint, not efficiency

By Jeff Woodburn

Our old fashion way of running government has put New Hampshire dead last in a Pew Foundation analysis of efficiency in state government. From the perspective of the Washington think-tank and their expert witnesses, government “managerial employees,” New Hampshire is an antiquated, odd ball state; hopeless stuck in an 18th century ideals of decentralized democracy that is suspicions of centralized power.

It is true that our structure of government has remained fundamentally unchanged since 1784, three years before the U.S. Constitution was adopted. While other states have marched to the tune of professional, centralized government efficiency, the Granite state has resisted. We have a historically large citizen Legislature, a slew of volunteer boards and commissions, a relatively weak Executive that must win the support of voters every two years, deal with department heads with independent terms and an Executive Council that must approve appointments and expenditures. All of this is designed to drive government bureaucrats and power hungry politicians crazy, and make them less efficient at carrying out their will.

Government operates best in small places, where maximum participation is feasible. From the Mayflower Compact to our cherished town meetings, we learned that the only way to control the abuses of government is by distributing power as widely as possible and encouraging the instinctive distrust of anything large and powerful. It is, after all, our heritage. We are a nation of immigrants and exiles, all who left their homes because of their government’s efficient denial of their human rights.

The measure of good government is not efficiency, but self restraint and allowing the citizens the maximum freedom and opportunity, and permitting slow, steady progress that is in line with our ideals and the dictates of the people.

(Jeff Woodburn, of Dalton, is a high school civics teacher, columnist for the Coos County Democrat and long observer and participant in New Hampshire government.)