Sunday, May 30, 2010

What is the Role of Government?

Problems are everywhere. You have them, I have them, we all want them solved, but for some reason, we just can't get rid of them. Which brings me to the topic of what is the role of government?

Listening to some people, you would think that government exists to solve everyone's problems. On the other extreme, some people would say that government has no purpose. The vast majority of people believe it lies somewhere in between, however, the in between part is rather large, so you would be hard pressed to get me to agree that we all want something in the middle.

One of the first things that people need to understand is that at the present moment, we have a finite number of resources. Let me elaborate on this concept further. Broken down to its simplest components, there are people and raw materials (although some might argue that people are raw materials). People have the capacity to create ideas and work. Through ideas and work, raw materials can be used to create technology. Technology may then make the kind of work that created it obsolete, but people still retain the capacity to create ideas and work.

So people and raw materials are resources. They are both finite. However, what can be created with people and raw materials is infinite. That does not mean that we have access to this infinite amount of technology now. What we have access to at this moment is finite. So knowing that resources are finite, if one subscribes to the philosophy of government solving every problem, then resources will quickly be depleted. But where along a scale do the resources run out (assuming anarchy at one end and totalitarian control at the other)?

Well, that is the wrong question first off. Because it supposes that government is actually capable of solving the problems in the first place. Government is nothing more than a collection of people and their raw materials. Sort of like a corporation, a collection of people and their raw materials. Or an athletic team, or a family, or even an individual. If government is going to solve a problem, shouldn't we compare how well it has handled similar problems to how other organizations have fared? Furthermore, shouldn't we look at objective evidence of both the means of accomplishing some objective as well as the objective itself?

Rarely do you hear about that in a political discussion in America. One group says "We want clean water", another says "We want drug free America", another says "We want 35 mpg on cars", and on and on. All of these things may or may not be good things. But the question should be, is it up to government to provide it?

John Locke talked about the natural rights of life, liberty, and property. I believe that the government should be focused on protecting these. Infringements on these natural rights in any form should be justified by an overwhelming evidence of benefit to another of the natural rights. Probably much to the chagrin of family and friends, at this point in my life there is very little that the government does that I support. Rather than voting for a new law to fix some perceived injustice, I would rather repeal the laws that caused the injustice in the first place. Voting for half-baked fixes only perpetuates the problem of the government creating problems to begin with.

From a federal government standpoint, we could still have 536 elected officials, but there would be no need for most of the millions of other government employees. Do I support term limits as a means to reform government? No, not at all. If you want to be in government your whole life that should be your choice. I would like to see the power that government wields minimized, that would naturally have the effect of keeping people who seek power out of government (which I believe is the major reason politicians want to be elected). Return the "service" part to public service and do away with salaries for elected officials (or at least limit it to the average salary for the whole nation).

From a state and local standpoint, that is up to the state and local constitutions. If a city wants to provide endless welfare benefits, fine by me (I won't live there), just support it from your own tax receipts. There is no reason for people from North Dakota to pay for the welfare largess of California.

I would just prefer if the government (federal, local, and state) just left me alone.

1 comment:

  1. Clean water is the only item on your list that is really a "we want"--the others are "we want everyone else to..." This is a huge part of the problem--too many people are more concerned with everyone else than they are with their own lives.

    Doing away with salaries, or limiting it to "average" isn't a good idea--you will still attract people after power, except they will be far more likely to sell influence. Instead, we need to pay our representatives very well, give them an office with basic amenities in the Capital building, reasonable travel from DC to their district, and that's it--they pay staff out of their own pocket. In exchange for this high salary, they have severe limits on earning or accepting outside money, with severe penalties for violations. Even an amazing salary for our elected officials is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to the benefits it could bring.