Steel City Cowboy

Thursday, October 01, 2009

What the Government Should Handle

Any bunch of people can get together in this country and try to make something happen. There are roughly two ways they can go about this.

In the first, they can attempt to build their own organization, finding like-minded people to come along, possibly making some money or raising funding, etc. to accomplish their goals. That goal might be as simple as earning a paycheck, as when people come together in a business or company. That goal might be to cheer on the Steelers, as tens of thousands of people decide to do each autumn weekend in Pittsburgh.

In the second, they can come together to either get the government to do something on their behalf, or to become part of the government themselves and thereby generate the same effect.

The right to petition the government for a redress of grievance is made clear in the First Amendment to our Constitution. Clearly, it is both just and within the scope of our rights and duties as citizens to work through the government to solve certain problems. But the question of which problems are appropriate for government redress and which should remain in the private sector arises, and I think this is one place you'll find a stark breaking point between the small percentage of hardcore liberals and the vast majority of Americans.

The center of the question is the realization (oft state here) that the government is there as a legitimization of the use of force. Everything else is secondary, and subordinate to that fact. So, when deciding whether or not the problem you want to solve should be handled in the private sector (I want a paycheck!), or through the government (He stole my lawnmower!), one should establish whether or not they believe that the use of force is justified pursuit of the goal.

If it is, then go to the government, which is the way that we sanction the use of force in our society. If you don't someone threatened into doing your will, then keep it private.

So, for what outcomes are you willing to threaten force upon your fellows?

An interesting exercise is to think about different government services, local, state and federal, to figure out how the use of force is involved. I had a liberal once whine to me that "If you had your way, the city wouldn't have any snow plows! Everyone would have to get their own!" Ignoring the notion that private companies wouldn't fill the gap, it does point out the way my argument works. A locality (or state) providing snow plowing on the public dime actually fits in with this model. Clearing the roads doesn't require force, but what happens to the snow? It generally gets cast onto private property. In the case of driveways, it can cause individuals to actually do more work (or go to more expense) than they otherwise would have. The State is basically forcing the private property owners to accept a certain tonnage of debris.

So, this is a case where the use of force (you must accept this snow -- you have no choice) is properly set to the State. If it were only private organizations doing the plowing, what would stop them from being sued by some whiny individual who didn't want to have to reshovel his driveway entrance? Sure, you could... pass a law indemnifying snow plowing companies from suits like this, but in the end it amounts to the same thing. You need force to do it.

That's just a simple example, and if you're into that sort of thing it can be sort of fun to pick apart the different government services we use/fund, and try to figure out which ones properly use force and which ones are just boondoggles.

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