Thursday, Aug 24, 2006
email this
print this

Why we have government

Somebody will govern. Will it be in the public or the private interest?

From Chuck Kelly of Charlotte, a retired consultant and author of "The Destructive Achiever: Power and Ethics in the American Corporation" and "Class War in America":

After quoting Ronald Reagan's famous comment "Government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem," Tom Ashcraft noted that "he was right then, and he's right now." That view is popular among many people, but is doesn't hold up under scrutiny.

Reagan's comment suggests a false premise and detracts from a rational discussion of society's problems. Fact is, all societies are always governed all the time. The issue isn't government or no government, big government or small government; it's good vs. bad government. It's who's governing, how did they get their power, in whose interests are they governing, and what are the results of their governing?

Today's classic example is Iraq. If its democratically elected government is unwilling or unable to govern effectively, then competing militia groups seize control and govern according to their own powers and desires. A nation in chaos is still a governed society -- it's just by the wrong people, for the wrong purposes, and with disastrous consequences.

So, yes, government is often the cause of our major problems, but it is often the solution as well. Government is the cause of our problems when, for example, it chooses to ignore or even distort the science behind global warming, and only an informed and active government can be the catalyst for solving the problem of excessive greenhouse gases.

When George W. Bush assumes powers previously held by the courts or a democratically elected Congress, he's not relieving the public of excessive government; he's just transferring governing power to himself. That could be very good if he's wise and right, but it's horribly bad if he's arrogant and wrong.

Libertarian think tanks, such as the John Locke Foundation and the Cato Institute, represent those who want to use their money and power to govern society in their own interests. To the extent that they can make government absent or ineffective in our society, they can step in and control (govern) conditions affecting us all.

Some examples? If government doesn't set minimum environmental standards, corporations do. If government doesn't set work safety and minimum wage standards, corporations do. If government doesn't adequately fund public schools, road maintenance, crime and fire prevention with taxes, they degenerate. And so on, for virtually every major issue in our society.

Sure, government can pass some stupid legislation and waste taxpayer dollars. But not passing enough of the right legislation and not raising enough taxes to solve society's problems and, especially, to prevent future problems -- can be even worse.

The anti-government argument suggests that we'd be better off by getting government out of the business of governing, increasing the ability of powerful private interests to set standards and make the rules, and doggedly cutting taxes, primarily for the rich. Those are the last things we need, as the Bush Administration is making clear.

-- For The Record offers commentaries from various sources. The views are the writer's, and not necessarily those of the Observer editorial board.