Thursday, October 11, 2007

Government is Good?

Government is Good is a web project by Douglas J. Amy, a Professor of Politics at Mount Holyoke College. The site describes itself as providing "An Unapologetic Defense of a Vital Institution". However it's more unthinking than unapologetic. A perfect example is provided by the author's writing on "A Day in Your Life".

The article starts with the claim that "Though we usually fail to notice it, government programs and policies improve our daily lives in innumerable ways." and then proceeds to document all the nice things that government does for us. The problem with this tome is that the author presents things as if only the government could provide the services he mentions. For example, he mentions getting weather information from the National Weather Service, completely ignoring the fact that there are numerous private companies in existence which provide weather information, some of it more accurate than the NWS. He talks about how wonderful and cheap our postal service is, as if private companies would somehow not fill the gap should the postal service not exist. Item after item are things which could (or have been in the past) provided by private firms. TJIC provides a better, point by point dissection.

In addition to overlooking the fact that private companies can and do provide the same sort of services, he makes a big omission by failing to address costs. It's easy to say that government is providing all these great services, but a what cost? When free people want to make use of a service, they evaluate the cost and benefit of the service. They look for a good value. Are the services government provides a good value? Nowhere does he talk about this. Not surprising, since he is a professor of politics and not economics.

It's not that I'm anti-government (although David D. Friedman's book The Machinery of Freedom makes a compelling case for why government isn't really necessary) but I believe that government's only legitimate purpose is to protect individual freedom. As George Washington stated so eloquently:

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

Supporters of big government who ignore this simple fact ignore history. They think that past governments have done bad things because bad people were in a position of power. The feel that government will work if we put good people in charge. History has not shown this to be the case, however. What has been shown time and time again is that government in only good at one thing, and that's to kill people.

Another take here