What Is Government For?

At last, a comment from Stuart worth further exploration:

…the point is that governments were created to use our – yours and mine – pooled resources to create BETTER things than we could have created by our lonesome selves. In fact, good systems of government like that of the USA are the biggest friend of capitalism because they create the conditions and mitigate some of the risks where capitalism can flourish.

Well, some might argue that “governments were created” to give the dominant person or faction a means of making everybody else accede to his or their demands, but I’ll allow that society’s concept evolved, building up to a recreation of the concept of government. What’s interesting about the above paragraph, though, is that each sentence describes a different concept of government: The first is left-wing, treating the government as a collective bee-hive, in which the members are all parts of a social organism. The second sentence presents a more right-wing positioning of government, as a mechanism to enhance the individual capacity of the governed.
It should surprise nobody that I think the first concept to be deeply flawed, not the least because it makes the typical progressive error of conflating government with the very concept of organization. All varieties of groups form in order to accomplish things beyond the ability of the individual, whether they are religious, economic, social, cultural, or governmental. Each type of organization will have different sources and applications of authority, depending on which aspect of society it inhabits, and “government” is sort of the final layer. And it should be a very thin layer, inasmuch as we leave to government the authority to use force — both of imprisonment and violence — whereas we insist that the other groups remain voluntary.
The difficulty that left-wingers face, within this model, is that too few people are willing to submit to their will voluntarily, so they wish to move more and more of their policy preferences into the category of organization that uses force. In other words, through all of our evolution, progressives wish to bring the notion of government back to being a mechanism by which the dominant faction imposes its desires on everybody else.

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John
John
11 years ago

“…progressives wish to bring the notion of government back to being a mechanism by which the dominant faction imposes its desires on everybody else.”
And yet they will swear that such is not the case while passing laws to do just that.
I guess we just don’t understand why the interest of the society at large is more important than the our individual liberties.

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

None of this is anything new! Jefferson promoted the building of roads and canals, financed by the US Government, to help us achieve great things. Now, do you think the folks in SC or KY cared about the Eric Canal across NY state? Of course not! You can never get consensus or even a large majority to back any individual project, however you can get consensus (or close) when it comes to the benefits afterwards. Interstate highways caused a lot of pain for individual towns and businesses, as they often skirted towns which beforehand had been commercial centers. Airports and the FAA, often financed by public money and governments, took business away from trains, toll roads, etc. and made lots of noise for those in the flight paths. John, the interest of society IS more important than the so-called “freedom” of an individual. The problem is, you are using the wrong word…..freedom, where the proper word might be “opinion” or “druthers”. Perhaps, Justin, you can explain why my freedoms are taken away by Churches which get to own billions in property and not pay taxes on it? Shouldn’t I have the “freedom” to make them pay more taxes? The problems with your lines of thinking is that they are black or white – left or right. You start your comment by dissecting a statement and calling every phase either left wing or right wing. I’m sorry, but that is a disease! What you are telling me is that my fat bank account is right wing, while my happily paying my taxes is left wing. Or that my luxurious house is right wing, while my vote is left wing. That’s silly stuff. I never look at any issue in such a myopic way, but rather attempt to look both at history… Read more »

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

The situation Stuart is trying to define is called a “market failure” in economics: a situation in which somebody could be made better off without somebody else being made worse off. This has been the traditional neo-classical argument for government interventionism in very limited areas of the economy. Where the anti-economic progressives like Stuart and David steer off the track is, instead of looking for such situations based on real data and supporting mathematical models, they simply label every situation they don’t personally like as a “market failure” and use it as an excuse to get government involved and violently coerce a new result that they personally like better, even if it is less overall efficient. For example, if 10 people out of 100 cannot afford or choose not to buy health care based on their current allocation of resources, this is not a “market failure” at all since all government can do is steal/tax from somebody else and make them worse off. But progressives will erroneously label it as a “market failure” and resort to violent coercion to change the result because they simply don’t like the outcome. This is not a legitimate use of government and their economic justification is flawed. They also bizarrely and anti-economically assume that risk is not something that can be valued and accounted for by the market, i.e. if somebody decides to invest $500 rather than buy a $500 insurance policy against flood damage and a flood then occurs doing $1000 worth of damage, progressives call that a “market failure” when no such thing has occurred at all. It could easily have been the case that the $500 investment was a better bet than the $500 insurance plan based on the person’s needs and information available at the time. To think that government… Read more »

John
John
11 years ago

Stuart:
Sorry, but I must disagree.
The Erie Canal was built in and financed by the people of New York and paid for by the tolls collected from its customers. This was also the common practice when states built highways; they were toll roads. That national highway system was conceived and built for the right reason, the defense of the country after World War II. It was President Eisenhauer, having fought a war in Europe, who recognized the critical national interest of a quality interstate highway system. The enhancement of interstate commerce was a positive by-product. The problems for those affected was warranted by the proper national interest, that being the ciommon defense, one of the few that our federal government is authorized to impose upon its citizens.
The FAA regulates the operation of airlines to protect the health and safety of passengers, not to resrict customers or impede the efforts of commercial airlines. The fact that airlines have replaced trains and toll roads is due to market efficiencies, not because of any governmental action!
I never mentioned “freedom”; I spoke of liberty. I was referring to the laws that impose themselves on individuals, not for the protection of the nation and the liberties of its citizens, but instead grant privilege and redistribute wealth in order to provide benefit to individuals, not the national interest.
Now I’m sure you will be happy to tell me that the protection of each individual is the same as protecting the national interest. I just don’t want to live in your utopia because too often in your utopia, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

John, if you can show me where our individual liberties include not paying Taxes With Representation, I’m all ears!
Dan, I’m not going to debate the choice of health insurance or investing $500 with you – but I will point out that the person who choses not to buy it will be paid from by you and I no matter what. That is, as it is now, we all pay when they lose their bet and show up at the Emergency room. The only point you could possibly make is whether we pay AFTER they lose the bet, or whether we make them put something into the pot in advance of them losing the bet.
And that has nothing to do with liberty in the classic sense.
Justin, I did not say the Government built the Eric Canal, although they did allocate money for and do the surveying and planning.
What I said was that starting with the very founding of our country, the Government has promoted and built and helped with works that are for commerce and trade and MANY other reasons which have little to do with defense.
“The young country was plagued by a horrendous transportation system which made it difficult, if not impossible, for farmers and others to move their goods to market.
In 1807 the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling upon the treasury department to compile a report proposing ways that the federal government could address the transportation problems in the nation.”
The point there is that the Government has always promoted commerce, trade, connectedness and many other projects which could add to the “general welfare”.

David P.
David P.
11 years ago

Thomas Jefferson, writing in the Declaration of Independence, declared that the purpose of government is to secure the people’s inalienable rights. These rights are not created by government but exist prior to and independent of government. Stuart’s comment above vividly illustrates the different concepts of rights held by the left and the right in the U.S. The conservative’s view of rights can be expressed in three words: “Leave me alone.” The progressive’s view of rights can likewise be expressed in three words: “Gimme gimme gimme”

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

>>>Leave me alone.
Maybe you, kind sir, can point me to a conservative president or two which did that……in the last 50 years???
Or, point me to an advanced country somewhere in the world which, in your opinion, follows that creed?
Otherwise, I have to dismiss your rant as a talking point.
Without clear examples of how conservatives govern (which I think we saw in 12+ years from 1994 to 2006), I can only guess what you mean!
Fairy tales are one thing – reality quite another. The proof is in the pudding. Show me some conservative pudding, not a recipe which has never been tried.
As a wise man said “everything is easy for the person who never does it”

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

the EU has adopted the “Stuart/Klaus” standard it seems.One of their ministers(I believe for trade)annonced that vacation travel is a human right and should be subsidized by taxpayers in the case of those unable to afford one.
Actually,the communists in the USSR and the Nazis had such a system for “productive”(read as loyal) workers.
I don’t think we need to subsidize trips to Vegas for welfare queens on permanent vacation.Of course Stuart will say we do.So would the disgusting”Klaus”.

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

Joe, you can never win!
Obama was pilloried for even suggesting that the Kings of Industry should not spend shareholders money on expensive junkets to Las Vegas…..right in the middle of the Great Crash of 2008.
Vacation certainly is a “right” of sorts, just like sleeping, lunch and bathroom breaks, sick days, etc.
There is no decent system that I know of which chains people to the desk.
For those who don’t know how the other 1/2 live, I used to be a frequent visitor to Club Med (various places).
We never went for longer than 1 week. However, my fellow visitors were usually from Europe and were there for a minimum of 2-3 weeks. One of our dinner mates looked at us with shock when we mentioned we only had one week for a vacation! I remember her words still:
“Our doctor told us that the human body does not start to relax until after 10 days to 2 weeks”.
So, where has our great system gotten us? Do we really have a lot to show for chaining people to the corporate shackles?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Stuie-you think I don’t know how the other half lives?That’s how I grew up-as part of the “other half”with my family living payday to payday,and a factory fire putting us in the crapper for quite a while.
The last nine years on my job I never took a vacation.I used my annual leave time for such fun things as recovering from injuries(the Feds have lousy on the job injury rights),helping my father on his way out via home hospice(commuting to and from New Jersey in the process,and so on.I survived.these Europeans are soft in that regard.They’re effete.Is that what you admire?
BTW I never once saw my father hang out at home when the place he worked at burned down.He took any sh*t job he could and finally got hired by NY State becuse he was a disabled veteran and scored high on the entry exam.
The Europeans have sealed their fate by importing foreign workers in droves yet never letting them assimilate.They really deserve anything that goes down over there.
Eastern Europe excepted-they’re still reovering from communist slavery which you seemed to endorse as Russia’s just spoils of war.You’re a real beauty,ya know?
When I retired I had a month of unused annual leave which I was paid for.
In the Feds,we didn’t get paid for unused sick leave-I had 4 months of that.We did get to add it on to longevity however-just like we could with military active duty-I had 4.5 years of that.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“The difficulty that left-wingers face, within this model, is that too few people are willing to submit to their will voluntarily, so they wish to move more and more of their policy preferences into the category of organization that uses force. In other words, through all of our evolution, progressives wish to bring the notion of government back to being a mechanism by which the dominant faction imposes its desires on everybody else.”
That’s a profoundly undemocratic statement, but I suppose its a good thing for you anarchists to finally come clean and admit it. And, as much as you might hate to admit it, you’re at odds with the Founders here:

If the measures which have been pursued are approved by the majority, it is the duty of the minority to acquiesce and conform.
–Thomas Jefferson to William Duane, 1811.

Jefferson warned us of where to do otherwise leads:

Where the law of the majority ceases to be acknowledged, there government ends; the law of the strongest takes its place, and life and property are his who can take them.
–Thomas Jefferson to Annapolis Citizens, 1809.

Jefferson didn’t see this as a left/right distinction but rather as the distinction between good men who acknowledge this duty to their country and bad men who do not.

No government can be maintained without the principle of fear as well as duty. Good men will obey the last, but bad ones the former only. If our government ever fails, it will be from this weakness.
–Thomas Jefferson to John Wayles Eppes, 1814.

Again, so much for the Tea Baggies’ knowledge of the Founders’ views on government.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“Thomas Jefferson, writing in the Declaration of Independence, declared that the purpose of government is to secure the people’s inalienable rights…. The conservative’s view of rights can be expressed in three words: “Leave me alone.” The progressive’s view of rights can likewise be expressed in three words: “Gimme gimme gimme”
But clearly what passes for the conservative’s [sic] view these days was not the Jeffersonian one.
“The equal rights of man and the happiness of every individual are now acknowledged to be the only legitimate objects of government.”[my emphasis] –Thomas Jefferson to A. Coray, 1823
“The care of human life and happiness and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government.”
–Thomas Jefferson to Maryland Republicans, 1809.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

So what about the natural rights of the poor? Jefferson was quite clear on what this meant:
“Whenever there are in any country uncultivated lands and unemployed poor, it is clear that the laws of property have been so far extended as to violate natural right.” –Thomas Jefferson to
James Madison, 1785.
You guys love to forget how radical the views of Jefferson were even by today’s standards.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
11 years ago

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” — Benjamin Franklin

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“The Constitution only gives people the right to pursue happiness. You have to catch it yourself.” — Benjamin Franklin?
OK, so what’s the source of that quote in Franklin’s writings? You’re kind of making my point for me, my friend.
I’m working on it, but the fact that “the pursuit of happiness” is a line from the Declaration of Independence, not the Constitution, should give you pause.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
11 years ago

The Declaration of Independence provides a philosophical premise to the Constitution.
Unless one subscribes to the fallacious “living document” end-run, nothing in either supports a federal government authority for (much less responsibility / duty for) welfare or “social insurance” or healthcare.
Yes, FDR rammed through a “progressive” reinterpretation of the Commerce Clause back in the 1930’s, which for now is “settled law.” But then again, Dred Scott was settled law for a while too.
Eventually the warping of the Commerce Clause will become recognized as such.
The natural and inevitable result of the progressive reinterpretation of the Commerce Clause is that every individual human activity, or inactivity, somehow “touches” interstate commerce, and therefore Congress can regulate every individual activity in the name of its Commerce Clause authority.
For example, if Congress has the power to compel one to purchase health insurance, then why not a prohibition on birth control, since we need more young warm bodies to help fund Social Security?
Progressive policies invariably (eventually) lead to de facto totalitarianism, which is the antithesis of the letter and spirit of both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both premised on inalienable individual rights granted us by our Creator … not dictation of individual activity on behalf of the collective, as dictated by the federal government.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“The Declaration of Independence provides a philosophical premise to the Constitution.”
Read — I can’t find any legitimate source of the quote in the writings of Franklin.
As to the rest of it, we can argue what Founders thought the role of the federal government should be versus that of the states, but Jefferson did discuss welfare in Notes on Virginia. The rest of it is pretty much nonsense.

Every man, and every body of men on earth, possesses the right of self-government. They receive it with their being from the hand of nature. Individuals exercise it by their single will; collections of men by that of their majority; for the law of the majority is the natural law of every society of men.
–Thomas Jefferson: Opinion, Residence Bill, 1790.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
11 years ago

Russ,
That quote isn’t necessarily (indeed is unlikely) to be “on point” re: welfare and/or the expansiveness of government over individual, merely that to the extent there must be government then it should be by majority rule.
I don’t have the context of the quote, but would guess that he was really addressing the superiority of democracy / republics over, shall we say, “non-consent of the governed” or minimal individual liberty governmental systems: collectivist (communist, socialist, fascist) / dictatorships / monarchies

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

Ragin, most of those government types you mention did not even exist back then, neither those words.
Just saying……….
There are a number of points here which you really have to accept. I will lay some of them out:
1. The General Welfare and Happiness of the people includes almost ANYTHING which contributes to that.
2. Jefferson and most other greats of history have made it clear that you can judge a Society by how it treats it’s lowliest members…the poor, the disabled, the criminals, etc.
3. The present idea that “welfare” is something which is harming the country…..is a fools notion. Using loaded words like “entitlements” or “welfare” is so yesterday! Most of the money which is called such is social security and medicare and food stamps, all of which are programs that help a LOT of people, and only one of (food stamps) that gives people something for relatively nothing.
Now, if you can honestly sit here and tell us you have been ragin’ against Food Stamps and the agriculture bills it has been a part of…for a decade or more….then I will take you seriously. But if it is simply misplaced anger…you are mad at something or somebody, and you are just repeating the talking points of the right – that is another thing altogether.
All in all, it’s best to be part of a solution rather than just a ragin’ complainer. FIxes and adjustments are needed for SS and Medicare and Health care, and some of them are already on the way.
But just yapping about “freedoms” and “welfare” is not going to do much. That’s my opinion, anyway.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Stu-you can run your “mouth” ad nauseum,but can’t really answer a straight question,now can you child?

Stuart
Stuart
11 years ago

What’s the query, Joey?
I’ll give my opinion.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Stuie-Many times I’ve posed questions and you’ve answered only those that you had a canned answer for.Don’t feel bad-it’s a leftist malady.
I try to answer specifically any question put to me.You don’t have to like the answer,but you’ll receive one.

Ragin' Rhode Islander
Ragin' Rhode Islander
11 years ago

>>Ragin, most of those government types you mention did not even exist back then, neither those words. Just saying………. Most countries then were under monarchies, which was included on the list. Marxism is a mid-19th century development to be sure, but also a form of totalitarianism. >>There are a number of points here which you really have to accept. I will lay some of them out:
1. The General Welfare and Happiness of the people includes almost ANYTHING which contributes to that. According to whom? And “contributed” by private efforts or are you referring solely to government endeavors (we know the answer to that one, don’t we)? >>
2. Jefferson and most other greats of history have made it clear that you can judge a Society by how it treats it’s lowliest members…the poor, the disabled, the criminals, etc. See above. Government is not “society” (except under a collectivist system in which individuals are mere units in the collective). 
 >>3. The present idea that “welfare” is something which is harming the country…..is a fools notion. Using loaded words like “entitlements” or “welfare” is so yesterday! Most of the money which is called such is social security and medicare and food stamps, all of which are programs that help a LOT of people, and only one of (food stamps) that gives people something for relatively nothing. First of all, the “Great Society” / “War on Poverty” has been a complete failure. Poverty rates were on the decline before these programs began, and have flat-lined since. Also, these programs that you say “help a LOT of people” (define “help” beyond handing them something that they haven’t earned themselves) are only possible by “hurting” other people by forcibly extracting from them things that they have labored for. Finally, with tens of trillions of unfunded… Read more »

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“That quote isn’t necessarily (indeed is unlikely) to be “on point” re: welfare and/or the expansiveness of government over individual, merely that to the extent there must be government then it should be by majority rule.”
Yes, exactly. Therefore if the people want to require citizens to buy health insurance, all that is required is that the government be formed by the will of the people.
That’s where Justin had it exactly wrong when he said “progressives wish to bring the notion of government back to being a mechanism by which the dominant faction imposes its desires on everybody else.” “Some might argue” that’s the nature of democracy, “some” including author of the Declaration of Independence!
It’s fair enough to take an antidemocratic stance in the name of individual liberty, but if that’s the case let’s agree to drop the Tea Party theatrics.

Russ
Russ
11 years ago

“No fixes on the way (government takeovers of private enterprise and increasing taxes are not fixes, but problems).”
Let’s leave aside that you don’t seem to mind that our wars are financed via dept (if only the “conservatives” actually acted conservative across the board) or that you refuse to even consider returning taxes on the wealthy to the levels of the recent past as a solution. Simply increasing the retirement age a few years would fund Social Security decades maybe even a century or more out into the future.
“Government is not ‘society’ (except under a collectivist system in which individuals are mere units in the collective).”
Again, I’d argue that’s a profoundly undemocratic sentiment (see the Jefferson quote above “Every man, and every body of men on earth…”). You act as if “collectivist” is itself a bad word. I take it you are also against the “socialist” nature of the U.S. military?

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Russ-I don’t think you were ever in the military or you wouldn’t have said what you did.There’s no room for individual opinions or thought when you go to war.No consensus.It’s just get it done.That’s it.No discussion clubs,etc.
It’s not the only place that happens.There’s not a lot of democracy fighting a fire or in an operating room.Can’t you get that?It has nothing whatever to do with politics,but rather the practicality of life and death.
You’re certainly intelligent enough to understand this.One size doesn’t fit all except maybe elastic pantyhose.:))

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