Friday, February 16, 2007

Birthing A Principle

"It is the mission of government to perform the educational, safety and humanitarian functions that individuals and smaller groups cannot accomplish."

Please, don’t quote the above. It’s my first feeble, incomplete and flawed attempt at stating a guiding principle with which to determine what I think should be the role of government and to evaluate claims for the mission of government.

Rather than compile a list of affirmative items (government should maintain a defensive army, secure separation of church and state, protect the environment, etc) or a list of negative items (government should not violate civil liberties, attempt to eradicate poverty, protect individuals from themselves, etc) I prefer to strive for an underlying principle.

Here’s an example in which I use the principle. Two years ago I attended a catered retirement banquet held in a community room at a gated community near Flagstaff. The homes are expensive, located in a Ponderosa forest and not all are occupied full time. Many are seasonal homes. A newsletter reminded residents to turn in reimbursement requests for trees removed from their property as a measure to protect their homes in the event of a forest fire. In my opinion, it is not the responsibility of the government to reimburse wealthy people to protect their own property. This violates my principle that the mission of the government is to do what individuals and smaller groups cannot do.

The principle that I’m attempting to state succinctly should encompass knowledge gained from psychology, sociology, history and other disciplines – knowledge such as the importance of personal responsibility and the dangers inherent in government.

I’ve got to ponder this more, revise the statement and develop something that can withstand intellectual challenge and fail gracefully. I’d like to write the perfect statement but, given that I’m imperfect, I don’t think it’s possible.

Your thoughts?

( I posted the above on another blog because I 'm interested in encouraging more reaction.)


Blogger Buffalo said...

I have been giving this subject a great deal of thought since we first talked about it. I find it difficult to the extreme to organize and list my thoughts. I seem to be weighted with the thoughts of what government should not be.

2/16/2007 01:35:00 PM  
Blogger Melinda said...

The obvious underlying principles of our government and society are our Constitution and Bill of Rights...yet there are so many differences...even battles over how to interpret and "apply" those founding principles.

Our view of the world has everything to do with how we view the relationship between our government and the people...but is that addressed in the Constitution?

Does a government that is suspicious and closed...that seeks to control and punish...really fit a democracy? Or does it represent the old-world view more typical of one with a King or dictator ruling their subjects?

How well does our government represent its citizen's world view today? AND if it doesn' it because we are too apathetic?

2/17/2007 02:25:00 AM  
Blogger James Shott said...

You express yourself very well, Paul.

I subscribe to this philosophy: Government should do for the people only what they cannot do for themselves.

It is an unfortunate result of government over-reaching that has rendered it difficult for people to do for things themselves, or for the people to take care of the people.

2/17/2007 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I do admire your wish to avoid negatives. However, having thought it over, it seems to me that your guiding principle will need to affirm a negative or two, simply based on human nature.

Might it not need to be stated that government should do these things with resorting to undue legalese, without religious influence of any sort, and without infringing on personal freedoms?

Just a thought.

2/17/2007 02:05:00 PM  
Blogger Alex Pendragon said...

A government should provide whatever assistance to the governed that the governed wishes it to. Trouble is, you have on one hand those who profit from the least possible government intervention, while on the other, people are oppressed because of it. A government by the people, of the people, for the people, is hardly that if we have the very best government money can buy.

Capitalism results in those two extremes, and only survives when there enough of the populace in the middle of those two extremes. Only when the balance continues to tip in the direction of the bottom due to overwealming advantage of the top, do you finally stir up unrest.

Socialism (not communism) calls for a much more even playing field, with a bare minimum of opulence and squalid poverty, thus you have that middle that is well served. This is where the concept of "rights" is evaluated differently. In one instance, you have those willing to put up with an entitled, pampered upperclass only on the offchance they can join them. In the other, you have the majority willing to deny the few their entitlements in order to reduce the numbers of those with nothing.
Only when "comfort" trumps outlandish opulance do you have a system in which social justice can actually thrive.

Even to this day, we continuely discover that money can truly not buy happiness, but here it certainly can "buy" it off.

2/17/2007 06:07:00 PM  

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