by Bob Wilson
Mr. Wallace (an eastern liberal) asks the question "What is the role of government?" of as many of his readers who would respond. In particular, he asked me to respond because he knows that I define myself as a conservative. In previous exchanges, Mr. Wallace and I have disagreed about the extent to which government should be involved with the citizenry. To Mr. Wallace, more government is better. I would suggest that for anybody to define concisely and completely "the role of government" is a task too large for a response in this forum. A basic task of an author when beginning an essay is to narrow and restrict the topic to prevent the essay from becoming out of control. A better question, for the sake of limitation might be: What is the role of government in the following areas: Religion, Education, Commerce, Discrimination . . . ? I will try however to answer the general question by giving some basic philosophical comments that outline my opinion regarding the role of government.
Sociologists and anthropologists could doubtless provide a fairly accurate accounting of how government in its present day variations came about on the planet. To arrive at a widely accepted purpose and role of government as it exists in our diverse culture is about like attempting to describe the "average" American. There are certain common beliefs which people with a common background share that shape a typical response to the question of "what government should do, and not do." Stereotypical responses to the question generally are categorized as "conservative" "moderate" and "liberal." The definition of each of those terms is extremely flexible and regionally influenced.
The role government (at all levels) has played since the inception of the nation has evolved dramatically. The pace and direction of that evolution has quickened and has taken a sharp (left) turn since the period of the presidency of Franklin Roosevelt. His was the presidency that ushered in the period of dependency creation that is refined daily by the modern day left. Fully two thirds of the federal budget now entails spending on programs (entitlements etc.) which are directly descendant from the policies of FDR. The basic cause of this era of dependency is found in the political system itself. Politicians have created this expanding monster which feeds on greed, class envy, and the requirement to develop a class of dependant voters who are convinced that they can only survive with a "handout mentality." The fact that FDR is revered by most liberals as the savior of the Republic is ironic since it seems pretty obvious that it was the Second World War that caused America to enter world prominence and become the dynamic production engine that it has. Programs such as C.C.C. and W.P.A. were "putting some people to work" (for the government) but at the expense of a paper economy which was about at the end of its rope by the time the war began. Reforms of the banking system and the stock market were required, but a historical discussion of the actual effect of all of the programs instituted is the stuff of a whole college curriculum, and not of benefit in this brief essay.
Style points and debating skills become confused at times with facts when serious debates occur. Facts are frequently debunked as opinions, and opinions are usually manifestations of bias.
I would therefore direct anyone who asks for a concise definition of the role of government to first, read The Constitution of the United States complete with its seven Articles and twenty-seven Amendments. The great debate regarding the scope of government in which Mr. Wallace and I are (usually) opponent involves interpretation of that document. It would be accurate (and polite) to say that Mr. Wallace is more "Hamiltonian" or Federalist while I am more inclined to favor the views of John Adams. Many could argue that words written two hundred or so years ago (mere seconds on the grand continuum) are subject to critical revision if they are to be used as law in the present. Clearly, it seems that to expect that we should all follow governing principles set down by a few of the elite white men of the eighteenth century is a recipe for disaster. But the architects of The Constitution included the mechanism for change as times change.
Perhaps the Achilles heel in the Constitution has been the perceived disparity of power that (to some) seems to favor of the Judicial Branch of the government. Ultimately, the Constitution says only what the Supreme Court or politically appointed federal judges say it says. During the later half of this century, the Hamiltonian viewpoint that includes "the doctrine of Implied Powers" as expressed in the "Federalist Papers" has been prevalent in many rulings of the Supreme Court. This has ushered in the liberal "big government" approach that led to an ever expansive government and is a dire threat to those who favor less governmental intrusion, states rights, and individual freedom and liberty. Therefore we have the great struggle between people whose interests are at stake when it comes to the ultimate interpretation and definition of the words and phrases in the Constitution. This monumental struggle is the primary reason why our country, with all it's greatness, and only 5 percent of the world's population, has ninety percent of the world's lawyers.
Ultimately, the major interests can be summarized in two categories: The interests of those who produce, and those who (for whatever reason) do not. I happen to share my brother's (Don Wilson) opinion regarding our current state of government. When I asked for his feelings regarding our system he offered the following:
"Today, I'm not sure the system can be salvaged without internecine conflict. For a lot of reasons the great ideas that seemed so unstoppable in the seventeenth and eighteenth century are only given lip service now. We seem to be disproportionately divided into producers and parasites and we're trying to weed out the producers. . .there seem to be a lot of political whores who have become rich exploiting class envy and the dumbed-down electorate. In short, I don't believe a republic (let alone a democracy) can thrive for long without a growing base of educated participants and that pool appears to be shrinking. The "role" of government . . . should be spelled out in the form of a contract and those elected to administer said contract should be held accountable to the terms and provisions therein. Goals should be set by the legislators, administered by the executives and judged by the electorate. Squabbles should be settled by the judiciary and qualifying standards should be set for participation of all four groups, especially the electorate. (e.g., if your only interest in government is how much you can milk it, you don't vote)."
Don's statement defines what has become the slow poison of our Republic. In our "modified" capitalist system producers are becoming the minority, and those who only take, the majority. The grand social experiment which has taken place during the past fifty plus years has wrought an evolving class of un or under educated drones who put ever increasing demands upon the producers. The "melting pot" experience has resulted in large clumps of "unmelted" cultures which conflict. Dealing with multi-cultural (race, ethnic, and religious) conflict has become a predominant activity of government. The politicians and lawyers have flourished by finding ways to achieve "economic equity" (in the name of social justice) on behalf of people who do not participate in the "game" of capitalism. Social activists, capitalizing on demographic factors look for new ways to tap the tax system and gerrymander laws to placate regional and cultural special interests. The fruit of capitalism (wealth) is being confiscated from producers to such an extent that the system is approaching its elastic limits. On a national level, finding one politician who embodies ideas and interests of a "majority" of voters has become increasingly difficult. In the light of these conditions, Mr. Wallace asks, "What is the role of government?"
To understand my reaction to that question you must understand one principle of economics: In the final analysis, government does not create wealth. If it did, then you would be hard pressed to find a poor country. Certainly, people can become wealthy as a result of the action of government. This wealth, however comes out of the pockets of others who did the work required to generate it. People who are free to pursue business and who understand supply and demand create wealth. Wealth is profit which occurs when a shortage of a service or product is recognized, and someone does the work required to reduce the shortage. (This is the point at which liberal moralists step in and demand that profit be redistributed to those for whom they advocate.) Even conservatives agree to some extent, that the price for a civilized society is sharing of profit to operate government. The whole debate centers around the extent to which these obligations are required. Thus the argument becomes one of greed and necessity. Liberals argue that capitalists want to restrict taxation out of greed, where as conservatives consider the liberals to be the greedy ones who fail to understand what causes the economic engine to run, and who inculcate class envy and dependency in order to shore up a political power base.
Our basic capitalistic system, which still centers on principles of free enterprise, free choice, and competition has raised the world standard of living and arguably brought about the industrial revolution. It is the crown jewel of productivity. Private ownership of property and chattels is a hallmark of our system. Accumulation of wealth is a by product. Competition dictates that there are winners, and losers. The winners expand and create more capital. More capital investment means more jobs. The process is synergistic and conceived to work with minimal governmental interference.
When wealth is accumulated, the assault begins on the part of the those whose only hope of acquiring wealth is to take it from the producer. During this century, our government has become the prime "taker" of accumulated wealth in the name of redistribution. Socialists and social liberals justify this on the basis of "morality." Mr. Wallace will turn any argument about the merits or limits of capitalism and competition into an argument about "morality." Hence the name of his web site, "The Ethical Spectacle." To a capitalist, morality involves playing the game fairly, but playing to win. To a liberal, morality means playing the game fairly, and then, when one player loses, it is the function of government to create a department which confiscates half the winner's proceeds and redistributes it (minus the cost of government) to the loser. Also, the government must require the winner to hire people from the losing team. This is commonly referred to in liberal jargon as "leveling the playing field." Advocacy for the under class is the rallying cry of liberals. Too bad that their only real long term contribution to the poor is to swell their ranks. By destroying incentives to produce, the liberals do create an equity of sorts. Companies go out of business and everybody suffers equally.
"How many poor people would you let starve to keep from paying more taxes" asks Mr. Wallace? That is the type of phoney "moral dilemma" question which liberals pose to those who would stand up and say that his whole premise is corrupt. To liberals in this country, the role of government is overwhelming, and includes "moral gate keeping" as a prime function. Only liberal definitions of morality are allowed. They point to examples of semi-democratic nations which have successfully endured the past century under the burden of huge, expanding government. What they overlook the fact that they are without exception, countries which have generally homogeneous cultural, ethnic (and usually religious) backgrounds. The citizenry is generally highly educated, enjoys a higher than average standard (by world standards, not U.S. standards) of living, and is culturally conditioned to endure high taxation. Social benefits such as health care and education provided are regulated by the central governing body. Employment levels and education levels are higher than the world average. Private property is generally tolerated, but many luxury items, such as private autos are found only in the homes of the truly elite. Choice is strictly limited. Immigration is likewise tightly controlled and restricted to those who meet rigorous education and background standards. To convert the United States into Sweden or Japan is hardly conceivable without some pretty drastic human engineering and probably would require some "ethnic cleansing" on a scale that would make Bosnia seem like a picnic.
For the reader who had hoped to see an extensive laundry list of those things which the government should do, or not do, I offer my regrets. Such a list is a worthless exercise of opinion and bias. Yes, most agree there are some things the government should do. Once you get beyond the function of protecting boundaries from foreign invaders (even that function is debated by the moral gatekeepers) you venture into the land of special interests. As certainly as the government must do some things, it must not create dependency as ours has done with the welfare system. In our land of lawyers and advocates, who earn their bread and butter by expanding government, the list of things which the government now does is far too long. Suffice it to say, the role of government has been extended beyond necessary and prudent limits and that the liberal agenda has profited from governmental expansionism, creating a permanent class of dependant people who believe that welfare is their "salary."