Monday, September 12, 2011

Connotation of Government

One of the main things you learn when studying or discussing philosophy is that a lot of confusion and disagreements come from people using the same word in different ways.

Consider the word 'government'. What does it make you think of?

To some, 'government' means the people who have their salaries paid by taxpayers.
To others, 'government' means the people who have the ability to fine you or put you in jail.
To others, 'government' means the things done by the apparatus of the state, like building roads or mailing Social Security Checks.
To others, 'government' means the set of laws and rules that say how society is organized.
And some people use 'government' to mean an abstract nebulous thing that has little connection with reality, like 'the will of the people'.

People who say 'government' and think about an IRS agent will find it difficult to communicate with people who say 'government' and think about the Bill of Rights. The word has so many meanings that it becomes meaningless.

I tend to use the word 'government' to mean 'a bureaucracy with the power to spend your money and put you in jail'. 'Bureaucracy' refers to the complex feedback loop between the rules and incentives of a centrally planned organization, and the people who are selected, promoted, and trained by such organizations. 

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