The Proper Speed of Government is Often Slower Than You Want
Keeping in mind that government is composite, not a monolith (so you need to be more specific than “the government” when you’re applying the contents of this short essay), the proper speed of government is often slower than the private sector. But also: there is no universal speed of government and law; different parts move differently.
You can consider government speed as a cartesian graph with two axes: one is speed (fast/slow), the other is appropriateness (good/bad).
Each different kind of law and organ of government has a different speed that’s appropriate (both in theory and practice), and that speed can change in the context of what the rest of the government is doing. Some examples:
- Fast (bad): if you could change fundamental law or the shape of government as quickly as a company could theoretically change its internal structures, you would have rule of man, not law. Law needs to be stable for many reasons; people need to know what to expect, they need to be able to make and keep contracts, etc. It is the stability of government and law that enables markets and other more dynamic elements to be beneficially dynamic in the first place.
- Slow (bad): if you couldn’t change the law or shape of government hardly at all, you’d have the complete lack of adaptability characterized by (for example) procedural obsession over results. This is stultifying, and it pulls the dynamism of the other realms of human action down with it, or pushes them into black markets and less-than-ideal workarounds.
- Fast (good): permitting of all kinds should be relatively automatic, not discretionary. It should be incredibly fast.
- Slow (good): changing the fundamental nature of the government shouldn’t be easy to do, nor should it be impossible. But it should be far away from the easy end.
Another example: changing a constitution is often harder than passing a statute through the legislature, which is often harder than changing a regulation through administrative channels, which is sometimes harder than changing case law by issuing a judicial opinion. The different kinds of law move with different speed and have different durability, and are meant to be this way. They give our legal system both flexibility and stability. Of course, sometimes these are thrown out of balance in practice.
The social media thumbail for this post is of Cincinnatus, who was called to be temporary dictator of Rome during war. This is a classic example of government shifting its structure to move more quickly, which also required a change in law. This resembles the power of modern executives to act unilaterally during war, or when relating to their nation’s military.