Sunday, October 10, 2010

Government Failure

There are too many people who have a simplistic 'government is good' or 'government is bad' viewpoint.  Neither of these is helpful.  My view is this:

There are some things that it is absolutely essential for government to do, and to do right.  Voter attention and political oversight are limited resources.  Because of these two facts, the government should be small to maximize the chances that it fulfills its core functions and does them properly.

These children in Chicago do not need the government to try to provide them with more health care, food, money, or any other kind of welfare.  All of those things would be nice, but they are not the priority.  What they need, more than anything else, is more law and order.  They need the government to protect them from random violence.  They need to grow up in a place where the police protect them from the raper-man.  They need to grow up in a society where they can trust people, where they do not need to focus all of their skills and attention on forming social coalitions for self-protection.

Our government has failed them in a serious and profound way.  Their lives and futures are being ruined.  This is a disgrace.  The core, primary, and most important job of government is not being done.  They live in a state of anarchy, outside the protection of laws and civil society.  This makes unequal access to health care, education, and even food look about as irrelevant as unequal access to Ferraris.

All of our political discourse, all of our congressional debate, and all of our voter concerns should be directed at this issue above all else.  When government fails its core function of enforcing laws and providing security for its citizens, it puts the entire civilization at risk. These children have no reason at all to trust the government, or even consider themselves to be Americans, because the government has utterly failed in its primary responsibility to them.

A bad social situation like this is a cancer.  It will rot our country from the inside out, ruining countless lives and spreading poverty and misery, unless we deal with it.  While our politicians dither about random junk and our soldiers are sent out to do police work in foreign countries, many sections of our own country are suffering from a serious lack of political oversight and police protection.  Maybe this is happening because the Chicago police department is corrupt and incompetent, maybe it is happening because they simply do not have enough people and resources*.  I do not know or care.  This is what we elect our politicians to deal with.  This should be the number one priority.  Unless it is dealt with, anything else the government does or tries to do will be pointless.

Whenever the government grows, elected officials end up getting distracted with things that, in the end, do not matter.  This would be fine if you live in one of the few countries that do not have any problems with law and order.  The Swiss and Scandinavians can afford to mess around with a welfare state because they do not have this kind of entrenched lawlessness in any parts of their country.  We do not have that luxury.  The more time our voters, pundits, and elected officials spend debating the secondary functions of government, the less time they have for focusing on the primary functions.

Yes, it would be nice if the government gave everybody good education and food and health care and enough money to live on.  But unfortunately, the opportunity cost of doing these things is too high.  If people do not have security, if their lives and property are not protected from random thugs and/or corrupt government officials, then nothing else matters.  Time and effort and money spent providing welfare means those resources are not spent providing security.

We have seen that welfare without security helps nobody.  Decades of effort have proven that money or handouts will not help people improve their lives if they live in a horrible, toxic environment.  We have also seen that people can usually find ways of supporting themselves and improving their lives if they live in a stable society where the rule of law applies.

If we do not get the security situation fixed for these children, and thousand of others like them, they are our entire country will continue to have serious problems for a long time.  If we get the security situation fixed, most of the other problems they face would go away in a generation or two.  Fixing the security situation will probably require shrinking the scope of government so that we can focus on what really matters.

*This situation might also be happening because the good people of these communities are not allowed to own guns.  That is a different issue; I do not want the gun ownership issue to distract from my point that small government means better government.

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