The role of government is an issue addressed all too rarely in our political discourse. This is your opportunity to engage me and your fellow readers in a debate over government's proper role in our society. Some of my random ramblings are below - feel free to skip them and head straight for the comments if you want. I warn you, though, any posts that I consider too ad hominem will be removed. This is not to imply that I don't believe in free speech. I just don't like insults on my blog, unless they're directed at Jerry Falwell or Ann Coulter.
At least since the 1980s, American politics has been operating under the assumption that government is a "necessary evil" that we should have as little of as possible. Reagan's statement that "government is not the solution, government is the problem" has pretty much summed up the attitude of most Americans towards government. Even Clinton, a moderate liberal, declared the era of big government over.
But is it time to challenge that assumption? I was reading "Stand Up, Fight Back" by Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. when he made the statement that government does not get in the way of liberty. In fact, government is the sole guarantor of liberty.
This seems obvious enough. Without government enforcement, anyone could steal anyone else's stuff - there'd be no property rights. Furthermore, we'd have no right to live the life we want to live - we'd be at the mercy of the guys with all the guns and money.
Dionne expands this further, arguing that a free market would not work without government regulation either. History bears him out on this one - anti-trust actions such as the ones taken by Teddy Roosevelt have been required to keep competition and innovation in the market.
So government is necessary to protect liberty and to keep the market running smoothly. But how do we define these terms?
For example, health care. Since "life" is one of those inalienable rights that we all can (mostly) agree on, and since adequate health care is essential to maintaining life, we can argue that each citizen has a right to adequate health care. The government, being the guarantor of rights, should be responsible for providing health care for everyone who cannot afford it (or whose companies do not provide it for them). But doing this requires revenue, which requires taxation. Excess taxation deprives people of some of their property rights (along with disturbing the market, if you believe libertarian economists). So where does the line fall?
For another example, regulations. Many regulations protect the rights of a large number of people. The minimum wage law guaranteed - at the time it was passed - a reasonable, livable salary for everyone who worked. Environmental regulations keep people healthy, keep our food supply unharmful, and keep our air breathable. But too much regulation can have a negative effect. Innovation can get caught up in red tape. On his campaign website, Libertarian presidential candidate Michael Badnarik tells the story of poor young aspiring entrepeneurs who are blocked by regulations which place a heavy cost on the citizen.
Liberty cannot abide in the absence of law. Often, the laws that protect one person's liberty infringe upon another's. And the lack of laws that ensure one person's liberty can prevent another from reaping its full benefits.
Is there a way for government to always protect liberty? What is the proper role of government in our society? I humbly ask my readers to voice their opinions below...