Friday, October 8, 2010

What is Government Good For?

Maybe I'm mellowing in my old age, or maybe the Apocalypse is closer than I thought, but today I read and agreed with an Op-Ed piece by a writer whose columns usually leave me incensed, enraged, or both. He wrote, "I'm a small-government conservative, but society exists so we can live in peace together and not just to enable individuals to take actions that might benefit themselves but harm the community around them." Well, nothing to disagree with there as far as I am concerned.

But a recent news item from Tennessee got me thinking about what I think is the proper role of government in our lives. The story, in case you missed it, was about a local vounteer fire company that had allowed a residence to be totally destroyed by fire because the owners had not paid a $75.00 fee for fire protection. The fire-fighters were on hand, but only to keep the fire from spreading to other homes for which the fee had been paid. This really upset me.

If I were to make a prioritized list of the services I want government to provide, public safety (including fire protection) would be pretty near the top of the list. National defense, public safety, public education, these seem to me to be "core" responsibilites of government. In our society we pay for these services with our tax dollars, and we, or at least I, expect the government to provide the services without exception. And if I haven't paid my taxes, well, I still expect the fire department to show up and put out the fire. Delivery of government services is not dependent on tax payments being up to date, nor should they be. Tax collection is a totally separate matter, and maybe that's a subject for another post (I know quite a lot about the topic), but even a tax scofflaw can expect the cops or fire department to show up when he calls 911.

If government doesn't provide the services, or they get "privitized", then scenarios like the one described above become possible. To me, this is totally unacceptable - we shouldn't have to buy "protection" to keep ourselves safe from crime or natural disaster. In fact, government should protect us from those who sell "protection" - maybe in this instance that includes the Tennessee fire company that watched that residence burn while they stood by and did nothing. How can anybody even do that?

That's what I think government is good for.

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