It's About Space
Another way governments tend to only grow is over space. The story of history has often been of a country claiming a new territory for itself, often times even when a native people already lived there. And when new territories were harder to come by, governments actually convinced people of their country to kill people of another country so that the government could take some old territories.
Indeed, governments will even enlist their citizens to kill each other so that it can keep all the land for itself. The USA had a nice little Civil War of its own because it seemingly forgot the words and intent of the Declaration of Independence. Things have definitely gotten better as we've learned to live on an increasingly crowded world, but you still don't commonly see governments shed territory without a fight.
But what is really impossibly stupid about all this is how that space is managed. There are many modern principles that the Founding Fathers simply did not have in their time, so lets examine a couple ways in which a government could better be structured in order to control a territory. In the interest of full disclosure and/or self-promotion, I happen to work developing a territory game called Subsume which is built on these (and other) observations.
Your border is your country
A simplification of the holographic principle is roughly that everything happening within an area is seen at the boundary of that area. While it is generally applied to physical divisions, it should be easy to see that it has analogies in political, financial, social, and other borders that conceptually get drawn.
A government that continually seeks to expand its power results in borders that are increasingly complex. We see this in the physical form in the USA with two non-contenental States and a number of disconnected territories, including widely spread smaller areas like embassies and military bases. We see this in the political form by showing public support of foreign governments while at the same time providing private support to opposing factions (or vice versa).
That idea of the difference between private and public, though, is a fiction at the border. It is pointless, for example, to say there is a serious embargo against Cuba when cigar-smoking celebrity governors can seemingly buy what they please. The sum influence of the information is simply projected for all the world to see, even if every detail isn't seen by every person.
It makes more sense to reduce the government's complexity by projecting a unified message that is reasonable instead of multiplying entities that are all over the spectrum. It is definitely a form a transparency that governments seem hesitant to adopt, but there is every reason to think that, even treated as a black box, the system is fundamentally defined by its inputs and outputs.
Fractals are your friend
Here's a nifty thought experiment. Follow this progression for me:
- A person lives in a house
- A house is on a block
- A block is in a neighborhood
- A neighborhood is in a city
- A city is in a county
- A county is in a state
- A state is in a nation
My question to you is: what should be the immediate concerns of a nation's federal government? If you answered “A person” then you've probably never heard of fractals. The idea behind fractals is that complex things can be more easily expressed when they are built from simple things that reflect the complex thing.
The United States of America is a very complex thing, but nothing has been done to simplify it in a fractal manner. Even the name itself implies that it should be a composition of States based on some common unifying principle. Some might say that is the Constitution, but too often the federal government sees fit to dictate to the States instead of simply allowing itself to be composed by those States.
Now don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the USA shouldn't care about the rights of individual citizens or that it should hold no sway over how a State acts. But what I am saying is that if there is some concept that applies to an entity at one level, it is only sensible to see if there is some underlying principle that can be applied at all scales. In doing so, you get closer to the heart of what it means to be part of a greater whole.
Don't consume what you can subsume
In summary, and hopefully in conclusion of political content for a while, governments in the real world will never be built up as nicely as a game of Subsume. There will be no crisp, linear borders. No simple means of conflict resolution. No easy definition for levels of control at all scales. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to do better by looking at how things have changed since 1776, and how they might be used to better run governments that are established to secure the rights of We The People.