HOW MUCH GOVERNMENT DO YOU WANT?
Let's Fix This Mess: Part 3
Although it is impossible to pinpoint the time when the first human governments were created, they were probably in tribes or small villages with a chief or elder having some very limited power. As humans multiplied and started living in larger villages or towns, more government was needed to “keep the peace” and make decisions about defense, property squabbles, and offensive behavior (what we might call crimes today). Let’s just say this started taking place about 6-7,000 years ago when humans started living in larger communities.
I’d be willing to bet that the citizens of 7,000 years ago complained about “too much government” and, as we know, such complaints have become an important part of the American conversation (and conversations across the planet).
We need to decide how much government we want, because that lack of consensus is one of the factors dividing our citizens. At least theoretically, conservatives want less government and liberals want more, but I don’t think that distinction is actually real. Both conservatives and liberals want a lot of government; they only differ in where they want government interference.
On the first day of class for more than four decades I engaged students in an exercise similar to this: “think about all the things you do during the day and then identify the government connection to those activities”. Examples: the food we eat is inspected by the Food and Drug Administration, the bicycle helmets we wear (as well as thousands of other products) must be approved by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, our water is inspected by EPA, our cars must be licensed and we must have a license to drive, our cars must also meet environmental and safety standards set by the Department of Transportation, the buildings in which we work and live must meet local government standards for safety, pharmaceuticals we take must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and so much more.
I would then challenge students to identify ANY activity that is not, at least tangentially, controlled by the government. Students quickly understood that government is involved in literally every aspect of our lives in some way. Sure…involuntary reflexes such as blinking our eyes or breathing are beyond governmental control, but air quality is controlled, so there is still a connection.
Students would often say that “government does not control my dreams” and I would respond that government gives me nightmares.
I challenge you to offer activities the government does not control in the comments section.
The question is how much government do we want? Government essentially does two things: 1) protects its citizens and 2) provides services. “Protection” should mean keeping us safe from foreign threats and from each other. Our views regarding the number and variety of “services” government should provide is largely determined by our personal political beliefs.
Examples of governmental programs of which I approve: Inspection of airplanes, police and fire protection, roads and highways, water and sewer, setting air-quality standards, regulation of the food and pharmaceutical industry, OSHA (I’ll tell you a very personal story if you are interested), defense, railroad regulation, public education, protecting bank investments, and much more. I believe government is necessary to ensure the safety and well-being of citizens, especially in a complex world full of countless hazards over which I have no personal control. I cannot personally, for example, conduct research on pharmaceuticals or the braking system on a new vehicle to ensure their safety.
Governmental activities of which I disapprove: The $100 billion each year spent on corporate welfare (which does not benefit citizens), programs such as the Appalachian Regional Commission that gives away federal dollars for questionable outcomes and the Community Oriented Policing Services that gives away more than $300 million each year and has yet to accomplish its intended goals, the $1.4 billion in stimulus checks sent to dead people (more than $2.25 trillion in various government benefits was sent improperly to recipients, some alive and others not so much, between 2004 and 2020), control over school curriculum (I certainly don’t believe legislators should be involved), banning books (parents can decide what their children read), deciding who may marry whom, tax exemption for religious organizations (because so many have become politicized), forced prayer in school, spending $100 billion on military weapons that don’t work, and wasting literally billions of dollars by refusing to address areas of waste identified by the Government Accountability Office.
In essence, I believe government MUST protect us from each other by making it illegal to steal from, physically harm, or otherwise injure others. That also means government should ensure that corporations do not destroy the air we breathe and water we drink, do not offer unsafe or hazardous working conditions, and do not create monopolies that favor one group of citizens over another.
And I believe government should provide services that cannot adequately be provided by the private sector. I agree, for example, that churches and other private organizations can provide food and housing for those who cannot help themselves or who are caught in a cycle from which they cannot break free (I volunteer at a food bank and see this every time), but only the government has the resources to provide these services on a large scale.
I’d like to know your views on government. How much do you want?
Thank you for reading. Have a great week.
Excellent read David. I use an analogy of an umpire in a baseball game. A good, well trained and non ego driven umpire is almost invisible on the field. This is to either team, any player, coach or parent.
A not so good one is very obvious and can change the outcome of a game.
I would like to hear the OSHA story. Jim
Your comments today sound a lot like what used to be Republican (long before MAGA took over!). BTW, churches that own an arena and gymnasium should be paying taxes!!