Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Role of Government, or What’s Just Plain Wrong with the Libertarian Party Platform

In other blogs, I've criticized the conservatives and state socialism. This is my chance to criticize one of the things I think is wrong with the Libertarian Party Platform. The issue is: what is the proper role of government?

Generally, the Libertarian view is that to be truly free, there should be as little government as possible. This is in part left over from the days of monarchy in Europe, yet partly reinforced by the role of our federal government in things like land management in the West. And there are many examples of government incompetence, corruption, and the general failure of various agencies to do what they are supposed to do.

Still, the problem with the Libertarian Party is that they take an insistence on small government as some kind of religious tenant -- a “doctrine of small government” -- a “given” that can’t be questioned and therefore is central to all policy formation.

Fundamentally, once you hold a doctrine as sacred, you’re really limiting your own freedom and the freedom of others. I believe we are intelligent creatures and we need to think freely, unencumbered by such bondage as this “doctrine of small government.”

This is where I disagree with both traditional libertarianism and traditional socialism! (Hence, “the new Libertarian Socialist”)

The libertarians tend to say government is never the answer; the socialists tend to say government is always the answer. I say both are wrong!

My view: government is a tool of the people.

We live in a democracy, right? Government by the people, right?

Then government should be as big or small as it needs to be to serve the people.

We need to look at each function and program of government as ask:
· Is this the best way to do it?
· Is there a better way?
· Does government in this role make me freer or restrict my freedom?

If government is doing a good job and, from a management perspective, where government is the best way to accomplish a task, well let government do it.

Take our national highway system (as a transportation engineer, this is something dear to my heart). The prosperity and mobility of the American public is due in large part to having one of the most extensive and best highway systems in the world. And it’s a product of federal and state governments.

Is the government the best agent to build and maintain our national highways? If not the government, should it be sold to private investors to create a network of privately held toll roads? Granted bridges have fallen and some roads are poorly maintained, but looking at the big picture, is there any agent in the roadway business that would be more effective than government?

For national defense, the treasury, foreign policy, even the Libertarian Party agrees the government should be in this business.

Given the poor record (e.g., incompetence at FEMA, snooping on international phone calls and e-mail, etc.) of Homeland Security, I wonder if we’re better off taking care of ourselves! (See my blog: Are the Bush Republicans Really Maoists at Heart?)

As we think of the other hot issues of the day: how to pay for health care, our energy future, global climate change, etc. – I propose we use the same model I have above. Let’s assume that government is neither good nor bad. Then let’s think rationally about which is the best way to accomplish the goal.

Sometimes government may prove the best tool for the people. Sometimes it may be the worst.

But let’s not be so constrained by assuming that government either is or isn’t the solution.

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