Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Good Are Governments?

Ask Somalians. Or citizens of any country where the government fails.

I have been thinking of this because of the prominence of weirdos such as Ron Paul, given his current run for the president of the United States. Why would someone so anti-government wish to run it? Unless it's to run it to ground.

That must be it.

I'm joking, but not much. Libertarians, in the most extreme mold, do desire a world with almost no collective action, even though such a Paradise would probably turn them into Objectivist Jerky. No fanatic Libertarian will ever need the help of another person, no Libertarian project requires cooperation, and all Libertarians stay strong, self-sufficient and spry until they painlessly die in a blink of an eye.

Yet I'm not immune to some parts of the Libertarian creed, about self-government, freedom and letting other people live their own lives as they wish. All that is appealing. The problem lies in the fact that humans are herd animals, that humans need other humans and that the herd must be organized. Otherwise the strong and vicious will stomp the rest of the herd to the ground.

Besides, there are tasks which can only be completed by people working together. Markets and for-profit firms will not cope with those tasks as well as collective arrangements do.

Amanda has written about the way the infrastructure and services governments provide us are invisible, and that may well be part of the reason why the "tax relief" arguments get so much support. It would be wonderful not to pay any taxes, wonderful! Of course provided that the services those taxes fund would still somehow be available.

The crucial puzzle is this: Do those who desire no taxes or minimal taxes really understand which services that would cut? That it would be their elderly relatives who would no longer get Social Security or subsidized nursing care or government-funded health care? It is, after all, those "entitlements" that people like Ron Paul wish to destroy.

And does the "tax relief" contingent understand that the alternative they advocate does not mean no-costs-to-them? If the government does not provide retirement security or old-age health care, then either the families of the elderly must provide it or we must let those people who don't have enough saved die for lack of food and care.

This topic provokes extreme reactions. Either the government is the Monster Godzilla, rising out of the ocean to wring the necks of innocent tax-payers or it is the Holy Mother of us all. In reality it is neither, of course. But it is necessary, and though its overall size can be debated, no government should be made small enough to drown in a bathtub, as Grover Norquist once famously advocated.

Norquist would not survive in the kind of world he advocates, and neither would many in the current Tea Party.