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Government Freedom

The July-August 2009 issue of The Futurist has an excellent article by Aaron Cohen that raises the question of whether small government is getting too powerful due to the growing number of special districts and other single purpose governments. Excellent sources were cited, including Nick Dranias of the Goldwater Institute and William Ruger and Jason Sorens of the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.  (See Mr. Cohen’s article at www.wfs.org – July/ August issue)

Small Government is Growing Larger

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that there are 90,000 local governments in the United States, which typically include cities, counties, and townships, but most of these ‘governments’ are single purpose government entities. School districts and special districts, such as highway and improvement districts, would be examples of the latter. The scope and value of local authority and ‘home rule’ has been debated for decades. The prevailing feeling seems to be that the best representative government is local government, due to its proximity to citizens. However, the issue with single purpose entities is that they often do not have the checks and balances inherent in classic democratic government and are often championed by potent special interests with private agendas.

The emergence of special districts and other singular entities originated to address specific local issues that were often multijurisdictional in nature. They provided an opportunity to generate tax revenue, establish local representation and create charters designed to address problems. However, as the author explains, the very nature of these special entities has often created less control and only marginal oversight. More critically, such government entities now far outnumber cities and counties and operate somewhat independently – often taking on a life of their own.

A Freedom Index

For those who have not been introduced to the various indexes that track government influence, the Mercatus Center has a new report that bears review: ‘Freedom in the 50 States: An Index of Personal and Economic Freedom.” Because government intervention is so subjective and difficult to quantify the report and its research index notes that “freedom, properly understood, can be threatened as much by the weakness of the state as by overbearing state intervention.” For those who wish to review further, the report and its index offers a methodology for measuring how restrictive state and local public policies may be to citizens and rates all 50 states. See www.statepolicyindex.com for more detail.

A question I would raise for readers is, ‘How can local citizens be certain special or single purpose government organizations have relevance and ongoing value?’ Also, ‘What leverage do local citizens have to ensure transparency and accountability in these organizations?’ Please share your thoughts.


With over three decades working in and with federal, state and local government, John Luthy understands public agencies.  Known for his real world, straight talking style, he is a leading futurist specializing in city, county, state, and federal long-range thinking and planning. John is an innovative and dynamic presenter who is frequently asked to speak and consult on how to prepare public organizations and communities for emerging challenges. He holds both the MPH and MPA degrees as well as a doctorate in education.

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