This is probably the biggest bone of contention between the conventional sides of the political spectrum.

The conventional right claims that we’d be a lot happier with a considerably smaller government while the conventional left would, if left to its own devices, transform the government into a huge, and ‘smothering’, nanny.

Is there any reasonable way of determining the right size of the government or we should just try to reach a compromise between the warring factions?

I don’t think I’m smart enough to determine how big a government should be.
I also dislike the very concept of compromise – if I have to settle something I prefer to negotiate instead of compromising.
And that’s is why I’d rather approach this problem from another angle.

What KIND of government!

Let me take you on a short, and very condensed, historical ride.

Basically humankind has used, somewhat alternatively, two systems of running things.

Authoritarianism and democracy.

Specifics do not matter much. If decision making was centralized it was authoritarianism, if decisions were made by those directly affected by the results of those decisions being put in practice it was democracy.

What’s really important here is the fact that those two different manners of decision making generated different forms of government.

Authoritarian regimes employed ‘administrative’ (meaning ‘directorial’) forms of government while democracies were served by ‘referential’ forms of government.
And it was only natural that things happened this way.
Authoritarian regimes need nothing more than a ‘transmission belt’ to convey orders from the very top to the base of the social pyramid while democracies need a team of referees to keep the playing field level and nothing more than that.

Of course that I’m presenting a very simple sketch here. Things are more complicated than that.

And there are at least two main complications. ‘Human greed’ and ‘international relations’.

It doesn’t really matter if that greed is for money of for power. Whenever greedy individuals are allowed to enter the government and to cater for their ‘special needs’ things are headed south. And the only difference between this situation occurring in a democracy or under an authoritarian regime is that the latter has no natural defense against this kind of ‘mishaps’.

‘International relations’ play a less obvious role. The main job a government has to fulfill is to keep the state together. If a hypothetical state would exist in a vacuum – and have no neighbors, things would be a lot simpler. Since in the real world states do have neighbors the governments have to organize armies, secret services, engage in arms races…
Also in the real world states are very different. In size, for instance.

For all these reasons it’s very hard to ‘calculate’ the ‘proper’ size of a government.

Specially so without defining clearly what’s expected from that government.
An authoritarian regime would ask the government to preserve the privileges of those at the helm of the regime while a truly democratic minded people would expect their government to safeguard, using legitimate means, the independence of their country on the international level while simultaneously making sure that the individual members of that people enjoy enough personal autonomy so that their political regime remains democratic.

After those expectations are clearly formulated, the size of the government will simply be a consequence…