The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Mr David Cameron, has come out in favour of a smaller state - what he calls a leaner, more efficient state. Of course, not quite a Tea Party state since this is the United Kingdom and we like to think we're not that stupid.
But Mr Cameron is, as usual, floundering. His white tie speech to the Lord Mayor of London's annual banquet was merely meant to make his audience think that if he is re-elected he will cut taxes paid by the rich. So a bit like George Bush. And not to be taken as an argument.
But if you do take it as an argument, then what matters is not how big a state is but what a state does and how well it does it. Faced with the choice between a big state which specialises in repression and a small state which ditto, there may not be much to choose between them. If you are on the receiving end of repression the Big Issue is how to stop it. You are not much interested in what percentage of GDP is absorbed by the state or how big is the fiscal deficit. That's something for those in the repressive state apparatus to have bun-fights about.
Nor is Big State vs Small State a timeless issue. It all depends on where you are. In war time, all states grow - sometimes hugely. They have a tendency not to shrink back to their previous size - too many people (like the whole of the arms industry) may have acquired too big a stake in a big state. So it may take a deliberate political effort to shrink back the state.
Big State and Small State don't actually split between Left and Right. In France, there are no liberals. Every one thinks along Statist lines, left or right. Voters across the spectrum demand a Nanny State; they just disagree about whose bottoms should be smacked. France is a country of authoritarians - most of France embraced Nazism quite readily - and everyone expects the State to look after them and clamp down on everyone else.
Some states manage to be large - in terms of the proportion of GDP they absorb - and efficient. This appears to be the case with the small Scandinavian countries. Others are large and grossly inefficient, like the United Kingdom. A recent book by Anthony King and Ivor Crewe, The Blunders of Our Governments documents this for the past thirty years. The satirical magazine Private Eye documents it on a continuing basis.
So for the UK and at this time, I favour a smaller state. I see no virtue in giving Them money to waste.
There are some very big areas which are easily cut back. We don't need nuclear weapons. They give our politicians ideas above themselves and they are extremely dangerous. Accidents can happen. We don't really need armed forces on the scale we have them. We only end up fighting colonial wars which we lose. Other countries don't seem to feel the need to be engaged in perpetual conflict. Let's join them.
Like France, we have a lot of Imperial pomp surrounding our government of which the House of Lords and the Royal Family are the most obvious parts. They should be shut down. So should the Church of England. A state church is never going to be a spiritually significant organisation. Ours has far too many assets. They should be confiscated and applied to Good Works in the community.
And so on. Just in case you think I am being very one sided, I don't see any benefits to a Benefits-Culture. But one should remember that the Benefits-Culture is the deliberate creation of the Conservative Party which under Mrs Thatcher found it a convenient alternative to having an industrial policy or a housing policy or a regeneration policy or indeed any policy other than handing out money.