First off, let me tell you that the ‘political spectrum’ is a load of crap. No thinking person can be fit under a pat label of ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’. The whole left vs. right conflict is a false dichotomy created by interests who stand to gain from the oversimplification of the issues facing our nation and our world. The whole ‘right vs. left’ debate ignored the possibility that there may be points of view that are neither right nor left.

If you will allow me, I will try to create a diagram of current accepted political wisdom:


The biggest flaw in this model is that ‘democrat’ somehow implies Liberal, while Republican is synonymous with conservative. I don’t know how many tax-and-spend republicans we need before we wake up to that lie.

However, the Republican Lie and the Democratic Lie are not the subject of today’s muddled rambling. Instead I would like to discuss why we have governments in the first place. Governments are important, and they are actually good. Tonight is just the first step in developing my political theory. It is inconceivable that I am the first to think of government this way, so if any of you can point me to other references I would be grateful.

So here goes.

There are three major forces in our economy and out way of life. There is Business, Labor, and Government.

Another name for business is ownership. Business has one goal: to make money. Everyone who participates in ownership, which includes everyone in a 401k plan, benefits from the mandate of business to create wealth through the efficient use of resources. Business at its best is a ruthless profit machine.
Contributes: efficiency, growth
Detriments: greed, corruption

Labor is the representation of the people whose sweat makes business work. The primary goal of labor is to ensure that the profits reaped by business are distributed equitably. Labor stands for fair treatment of workers and proper recognition of their efforts. (I will post later about just how badly labor is doing in the US, and what they can do to improve their lot.)
Contributes: equity
Detriments: inefficiency, corruption

Government represents the needs and goals of society that are not supported by business or labor. For instance, neither business or labor are motivated to protect the environment. Both of them would sacrifice the planet for better return or higher wages. You can’t fault them, but you have to balance them.
Government ideally lies outside the traditional political spectrum. Ensuring the education of our children is not a liberal ideal, it is a pragmatic need of our society. Protecting borders and looking after collective security is another important role for any government.
Contributes: efficiency, education, sustainability, security
Detriments: inefficiency, corruption

Government appears to be a contradiction. How does it simultaneously provide efficiency and inefficiency? I’m glad you asked. There are certain unsung boons, like the bureau of weights and measures, that make business work better, There is antitrust law, which ultimately (when well applied) increases the efficiency of the marketplace and promotes competition. At the same time government is an impediment to efficiency, and well it should be. By recognizing a long-term value on a resource government ultimately makes that resource more expensive.

<added after posting>
Wow. I managed to talk about the inefficiencies of government like they were all good. I left out a bit. Bureaucracy. Red tape. You know the drill. I guess that’s the risk you take with stream-of-conscious political journalism.

I don’t always mark my updates so obviously, but that was a big omission.
</added after posting>

The idea of short-term hardship for greater long-term gain are lost on both business and labor. That is why we ask people from amongst us, people we trust to be wise and far-seeing, to represent our less tangible goals. It is also why we are disappointed with our representatives so often. It is why I am running for president.

All three vertices of my social triangle contribute corruption. Man, I’m a cynical bastard, but I really think I’m right. Another contradiction of government is the pursuit and reduction of corruption. You look at successful economies around the world, and the one thing they have in common is that everyone is held to the rule of law.*

I have a really neat diagram that shows the tension between the vertices of the triangle, but I’m just too damn tired to get it in here.

Before you get too carried away, my description of the idea role of government is not meant to be an endorsement or a criticism of current governments. I’ll leave that for another day. Trust me, I have plenty of beefs with the way things are going now. I feel it is important, however, to have an open discussion of just what the heck the role of government is. Only when we come to some kind of understanding why we have a government in the first place can we criticize the way our current government is being run. Any criticism or praise of current policy should ultimately be founded on such ideals.


* Aaaaaaaaagh! I have to say it. I wanted to stay away from discussion of any specific policy, instead examining the higher ideals. But I have to say it. I can’t stop myself. Do you remember why you’re reading this footnote? If not go back and review real quick. Ready? OK, here we go, then. We’re doomed. Starting with Reagan, the US government has shown increasing disdain for the law. There’s a reason Dub has delayed the release of his dad’s records. Being above the law is also not a partisan issue. When our leaders stop answering to the law, we lose everything.

36 thoughts on “Government

  1. America, America, God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

    And crown thy good with brotherhood,

    Thy liberty in law.


    I agree, the end does not justify the means, if the means include breaking the law. Sure, the prisoners in Iraq may be the scum of the earth, but they still have rights to fair treatment, and any cruelty to them hurts our cause. We may be lots better than Saddam, but if we’re going to have any credibility over there, we’ve got to live up to our ideals.

    Same goes on the domestic front. If our leaders consider themselves above the law, we lose the ideals of democracy, where those who lead are held to the same standards as those who elected them.

  2. It’s such a simple idea, the rule of law, yet even in our lifetimes we have seen modern nations crumble, looted from the inside by corrupt leadership. Modern Russia is a prime example. Mexico is another – while they have a way to go yet, their earnest fight against corruption at all levels of government is starting to pay off.

    As far as US foreign policy is concerned, it’s only a matter of time before some of our soldiers are held in deplorable conditions, outside the Geneva convention, while their torturers categorize them as ‘enemy combatants’.

    Domestically, I would estimate that 9 out of 10 robber barons in this country will never face prosecution. Those are OTA (Out the Ass) numbers, but you get my drift.

  3. Oops, I got the song verses mixed up. The real words are …

    America, America, God mend thine ev’ry flaw,

    Confirm thy soul in self-control,

    Thy liberty in law.

    Get that self-control bit. It’s key.

  4. Your quest for a dialogue on the role of government has a proud history. After deciding for a divorce with England, our founding fathers had a HUGE discussion about what to put in its place. One can gain massive illumination by reading the Federalist Papers (Madison et al), letters between Madison and Jefferson, writings of the Marquis de Lafayette. However, the only ethical way for me to end this comment is to admit *I* haven’t read more than a passing paragraph of this wealth. One can get a PhD, become a constitutional scholar, basically become subsumed in not reinventing the wheel. Or, in a nod to Martin Luther, we should discuss government anyway, even if we ignorantly repeat the past. The church hierarchy be damned.

  5. Holy Cow!

    Did you just describe society as Business, Labor, and … uh … “everything else” with Government (or Govenrment) in charge of everything else!?! What about Social, Charitable and/or Religious NGOs? Do they have no role? What about individual frickin’ responsibility!?!

    Your comment that “The idea of short-term hardship for greater long-term gain are (is) lost on both business and labor.” is a stretch. Businesses invest somewhat in R&D and people sometimes invest in education/apprenticeship for the sake of long term gain.

    If you are seriously going to propose that government be responsible for “everything else” [rather than just national security, education, national infrastructure (e.g. highways), and enviromental stewardship], then I recommend that your campaign restore the practice of “patronage” (distributing beer for votes on election day). I probably won’t agree with you, but I’d sure vote for you if there were a six pack of micro brew in it fo

  6. Excellent points, Bob.

    I certainly didn’t intend to give Government “everything else”, whatever that is. I did not choose to discuss the constraints on government for this entry, but that is an excellent topic for a future post. Very timely, as well, I think you’ll agree.

    When you say “everything else” that way it sounds like, well, it sounds like what we have now. But just about everything that our governments do can be wedged into one of your categories. In the end, my list of everything else might even be shorter than yours.

    Continued ———>

  7. ——–>

    Take, for example, Health care and unemployment insurance. I would put those responsibilities on Labor (not the same as unions, although unions are traditionally the political voice of labor), as it is an issue about the equitable distribution of wealth. From a practical sense that would be impossible to do in this country. Labor has long used the government to do it’s work. That is one of the reasons they are struggling for relevance.

    I’m a big fan of individual responsibility. By defining a role for government I’m not giving it license to do everything not specifically forbidden it.

    To put it more clearly, there is a role for business, a role for labor, and role for government. Then there’s everything else.

  8. Oh, and thanks for pointing out that spelling error. Funny, iBlog has spell checking turned on for everything but the title.

    Ooo! one other thing. I’ve had a heck of a time putting ‘individual responsibility’ into a political model. Everyone’s a big fan of individual responsibility until they do something stupid. The best contribution I have come up with is that individuals are responsible to limit the power of any organization, government included. Political parties give lip service to IR, but most of the time they are just trying to ‘fix’ things by making more laws that tell people what to do.

    The people labeled wacko on both ends of my original diagram have a lot more in common than traditional right-left thinking (and therefore my diagram) would imply. Out on the ends are the people who are actively interested in reducing the power that our government has over its citizens.

  9. Jerry,

    I think you got the diagram wrong, as far as things exist in this country today. Here is what it really looks like:


    with the dashes representing the perceived range of allowable opinion in either the right or left direction. After all, people like Rush and Sean Hannity are considered respectable mainstream opinion today, and even our dear Resident is pretty far in wacko right direction.


  10. And of course, when I look at my comment two things happend:

    1. The dashes and republican were taken away, probably because the durn thing thought it was HTML.


    2. And ad for Hannity’s latest book showed up at the bottom of the comment page. Coincidence?

  11. Jerry

    I think that I disagree with the “government as everything else” idea even more than my brother does. I think that government should do only those things that only a government can do. The reason for that is the government’s monopoly on the use of force. Unless it is absolutely necessary for the government to force a resolution, people should be free to make what ever arrangements between themselves that they feel best suit their own needs. Society and Government are not the same. Bill

  12. Well, Bill, I’m glad to see you chiming in.

    I don’t know how much more emphatic I can be about government NOT having ‘everything else’. Whatever that is. Looking back over what I wrote originally, and even more so the things I wrote in response to Bob, I don’t think I said anywhere that government gets ‘everything else’. Government has a role. By defining that role you can limit it. If you don’t define its role, government will define it for you. I think all the things I mentioned are legitimate functions of government. Never did I say and never did I mean to imply that all functions I didn’t list go in the government category, or even any category at all.


  13. I agree completely that society and government are not the same. That is one of the cornerstones of my thesis. Government is just one institution that we have created to make our society work better. It is time to get back to the basic question ‘just what the heck is government supposed to be for?’ so we can put it in its proper place.

    I agree with your statement “government should do only those things that only a government can do”, but you have to recognize that there are many things most people assume can only be done by the government that in fact could be done as well or better by other organizations. So my (and your) list of things only a government can do is much shorter than is commonly assumed. I know you won’t argue with me on that point.

    I think if you go back and reread what I wrote, especially my responses to Bob’s comments, you will see that there is nothing in there about giving government ‘everything else’.

  14. OK, now that we have confirmed that you are not in favor of government being in charge of “everything else” (which, as you point out is, sadly, pretty much what we’ve got now) and that you are for reducing the scope of government (as opposed to the logical end game of our current trajectory which is that government be in charge of “everything” nevermind the “else”), let’s focus on getting you elected President first and sorting out the tricky details later.

    First of all, I suggest a “Campaign HQ” category of the Blog. I know we can filter on Politics, I think we need something specifically on you candidacy.

    Second, more details on the Patronage Proposal (see below.)

  15. Patronage proposal: free beer for everybody who votes.

    One of the ways to increase individual responsibility is to get more people personally involved in picking which rascals are in charge of government (and we’re hoping they pick you). Providing beer at all polling places is bound to help. I’m sure the “I Voted” stickers work for some people, but many others are gonna need beer to vote period.

    There are some challenges. The US Census Bureau website shows 202 million folks age 20+ in 2000 growing to 226 million in 2010. Obviously, we’re talking about rather a lot of beer. Let’s plan for 250 million just to be safe. The teatotalers will free up some for the vote twicers, but the issue of underage voters with fake IDs will likely grow much larger than it currently is. (See more below.)

  16. Quality financing options are limited. Of course, we could sell out in some sort of grand “Budweiser = America” gesture, but who wants to be President of the Unites States of Bud if you are so beholden to them that you actually have to drink the stuff? No, I’m sure you would rather have a strategic reserve of regional microbreweries on call for emergencies that require high quality, craft beers. (Frankly, I see this happening a lot during your administration). We need the Redhooks, Sam Adamses, etc. working now on their capacity plans for 2008. (I’m assuming you’ll be out of the country in Nov-04.)

    Fundraising will be based on a simple premise: “Your donations will be spent on beer rather than annoying TV ads.”

    When you *actually deliver* on your campaign promise of “free beer for anyone who votes”, people will be so intoxicated, they might just vote for ya’.

  17. It looks like I have a campaign manager.

    In no particular order: Yeah, living overseas is going to screw up this year’s campaign, so barring any impeachments, we’ll have to wait for ’08.

    This beer thing, now… To truly be patronage, we would be giving people beer who voted for me, not just anyone. I’m ambivalent about my campaign dollars going to bring out voters for other candidates.

    On the other hand, by carefully selecting the beers we give away, we might do better. Busch-swilling dixiecrats and spritzer-sipping limousine liberals are not going to be as attracted to a good hoppy IPA as my constituents.

    Members of the christian coalition would be sure to vote when no one is looking. If enough of them are running the polls, that will effectively eliminate the beer incentive for that voter segment.

    It’s so crazy it just might work!

  18. In the beer department … one interesting election-law “reform” in New Mexico last year was to repeal the law forbidding sales of liquor on election days until after the polls closed. I had thought such a prohibition was to prevent people from voting whild intoxicated, but it actually turns out, the prohibition was to keep the pols in Rio Arriba County from pouring out the drinks in exchange for the voter’s proper execution of a vote for the right candidates.

    So up until recently, you wouldn’t have been allowed to drum up votes with beer — or other spirits — in New Mexico. (In fact, Pat’s dad was amused one election year, 1986, when our polling place was actually in a bar — Bob and Bill’s parents were probably also assigned the same polling place.)

  19. Continued …

    As far as the “everything else” issue goes, that’s covered in the Constitution. Any power not specifically assigned to the federal government in the Constitution is reserved for the individual states to decide.

    I generally agree with Thomas Jefferson: “That government which governs least governs best.”

  20. I go to berlin for a few days, and all Blog breaks loose! Where to start, perhaps at the end. Perhaps part of the problem with this ‘everything else’ and the limiting of the government’s powers/ creating individual responsibility in the government can be helped by stepping out of our paradigm, creating a paradigm shift for ourselves ‘ and Jefferson may have just figured it out. The philosophy of leading best by leading least can be compared to oriental philosophies of leading by not leading, or leading from behind. Perhaps you should try to get some sort of Buddhist monk for yer vice pres, a problem solver with a different way of seeing the problems.

  21. I also think it would be best if that monk were also a master brewer, in order to help with the election incentives. Not only do the voters get a beer for supporting you, they get a hand crafted brew by the Vice President himself! In order to combine the two, I think you need to find a Buddhist monk from Belgium, where monks are known to brew some fine barley pops (this would also make you an attractive candidate where the European Union is concerned).

  22. You say being in Europe will hurt you chances for this election, perhaps. This election is more about getting the beer brewing, the proverbial ball a rollin’! Then, while in Europe you have the time necessary to find Master Chin Barteux, brewer, statesman, and future vice president of the United States of America.

  23. Let’s just hope Arnold gets that pesky ‘born in America’ rule changed to clear the way for the charge to change! The Thinking Man’s Man (that’s you, Jerry), and Master Brewer Barteux take the white house, put America back on the road to freedom, and serve some good beers along the way!

  24. Oh man, oh man. The pieces are starting to fall into place.

    It’d be even better if the Monk were were a master of Kung-Fu or something. It would help our military policy if we learned to go with the flow sometimes.

    Plus he could kick some serious ass.

  25. I like Lee’s thinking on the Oriental philosophy angle. How about this for a slogan: “GPS2 for President … he’s a natural born non-leader”. Or “Vote GPS2 for President or the Veep will kick your drunken butt.” Obviously, there are still works in progress.

  26. Can we quit calling the “civilians” and “contractors,” and use the correct term “hired mercenaries?”

  27. Glad to see we are going to crack down on the violence, and finally give Iraq its freedom – with the possibility of more troops… Hasn’t it occurred to them that the Illegal Militias are fighting against, not their fellow Iraqis (unless they are cohorts of the US) but against the US occupational forces? Glad to hear we will demolish Abu Gabu and make room for a new school to help educate the Iraqi children we have left alone and wounded…oh, wait, we are not building a school, we are going to build another prison. Oh, good move, that’s the way to win the hearts of the people. Waste rebuilding funds on another prison. Just like domestic policy I suppose. Who needs schools when we can have prisons!

  28. It’s a pat statement, I know, but one I’ll stand by… We don’t need more prisons, we need fewer criminals.

    More quality education -> more quality jobs -> fewer criminals. It doesn’t matter what country you’re talking about.

  29. Strange, some of the biggest criminals in your country have a great education! I know one that even graduated from Harvard Biz School! Of course, they have well educated lawyers and lobbyists as well…

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