Sunday, July 6, 2014

He who governs least, governs ... least?

I intend to turn shortly to some further elaboration on full employment and the job guarantee. 

However, before I move on from the topic of my last post, I thought a recent interaction would further illustrate the point that our biases are holding us back. I emphasized in that blog the fact that in a modern monetary system such as we have, there is a critical role for government money to enable the private sector to meet its desired savings level and to achieve full employment. Trying to avoid this results in sometimes severe self-inflicted economic and social harm. 

Yet despite this fact, many people refuse to accept this reality and simply don't want the government to be involved. To quote from that piece: 

"Many people are more afraid of what the government will do with this knowledge than they are concerned with the pain inflicted on so many by ignoring the truth and refusing to allow the monetary system to be optimized for the benefit of all."
So I was not surprised when I received a comment from a friend insisting that "he who governs best, governs least". That is his guiding principle, period. Now the origins of this quote are a bit uncertain, but it certainly can be associated with the history of liberal (in the old sense of the word) thought seeking a government "of the people and for the people" rather than oppressive rule. I wholeheartedly agree. 

But what is really meant by these words? Is it a dictum for resisting any and all increased involvement of government? With all due respect to whoever coined the phrase, I find the term "least" very unhelpful. How can we define good government this way?

I assume we all want a military that can protect our nation from harm. Is an army best that fights least? Perhaps in peacetime that is highly appropriate, but when an invader is at our shores, then "least" is a problem. I prefer "effectively"!

What about veteran's medical services? Are doctors best who care least? What about our law enforcement and court system? Are judges best who judge least? Are police best who police least? These are all representations of our government.

How about regulators. Are regulators best who regulate least? Many argue "yes", but again, that depends on the situation. If our rivers are poisoned and our medicines are untested and harmful, and our banks are taking excessive risks and creating massive economic turmoil, then I suggest we want highly effective and empowered regulators. Of course we also don't want regulations for regulations sake either. Sure, there are plenty of outdated, worthless, and counterproductive regulations that should be removed or updated. We need right and appropriate regulation to have a safe and healthy society and rules for businesses to operate within.

"Least" isn't a criteria; it's a quantity - an artificial and undefined limit.

We could go on - border patrol, highway construction and maintenance, air traffic control, ... we want efficient and effective government that serves the public purpose that we collectively choose as a nation. Creating a subjective barrier of "least" serves no constructive purpose in defining what we want government to do. Rather, it generally undermines appropriate government at every turn, and in many respects, likely leads to much of the poor laws and regulations we have since too few are engaged in constructive definition of them at the outset.

Perhaps what we are really talking about is enumerated powers. Government should only be doing what we grant government the power to do. Governments do have a tendency to stretch those boundaries, and we need to reign them in. That's why we designed our system the way it is. But this is not a reason to exclude from those powers the very things that can most help us, the people. Just because we see some excess in one area, we shouldn't refuse to empower government to work on our behalf in areas that are critical to our well-being. And yet this is exactly what we're doing with our currency and monetary system.  

In closing, I feel the need to qualify this again since those like my friend above will likely take these comments to mean I believe 100% in what our government is doing...sigh ;-)

No, there is much to reform and restore in order to have our government truly be "of" and "for" the people. If you've been paying attention, that's been the point of this blog all along, not cheer leading for the status quo. But we need believe that the system we created can be used for our good. 

And what can that system do if we understand and use it?

  • End unemployment
  • Reduce inequality
  • Reduce reliance on ineffective Gov spending on "war on poverty" programs to tackle many social issues
  • Restore prosperity and a strong economy
  • Leave the next generation with a better country (cleaner air & water, restored land, better food, modern infrastructure, abundant energy, superior education, ... )
And with that, I promise we'll be back to just economics on the next post!