Day By Day© by Chris Muir.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Public versus private

Bruce Williams of the Galactic Patrol has weighed in with the excellent suggestion that we discuss what programs should be funded by the government and what programs are better kept in the private sphere. This topic has some special weight right now, as the federal government is so soundly criticized for its slow response to the devastation left by Katrina. Let me start my thoughts with some basic principles. First, the government should never take on more than the people are willing to pay for. Our government should never (with a possible exception for military emergency) spend more than it takes in. Anything we are not willing to pay for, we should not assign the government to do. Second, the fundamental role of government is to preserve the society from both internal and external threats. Thus, the military and police forces must come first. Everything else is optional, depending on whether we are willing to pay for it. Third, the next thing I'd be willing to pay for is maintenance of the infrastructure. For example, I would like the government to maintain the street outside of my front door and, for that matter, the 50 miles of road between that door and the door to my office. I'm willing to pay my share to make that happen. Fourth, I'd be willing to pay to have the government take on the task of keeping track of ownership of real property. I don't know who else could do so effectively. Fifth, I'm willing to pay for the government to set up a system that adjudicates disputes between private individuals. I'm not overly fond of the far too cumbersome and expensive system we have in this country at the moment, but some system is needed and the government is in the best position to provide it. I'm willing to pay for some level of disaster relief. For example, I want to be able to pick up the phone and have a fire truck to my burning house in minutes if I ever need it. I don't know enough to comment intelligently on the hurricane relief effort except to suggest that a system that would be ready to provide an adequate response to a disaster of that magnitude at a moment's notice would likely be prohibitively expensive. I do not willing pay for the re-distribution of income. I would eliminate all programs that served that purpose if I had a choice. I don't think the government should be an insurance company (health insurance or any other kind). I don't think the government is Robin Hood, using its power of taxation to rob from the rich and give to the poor. There are a world of services in between (education springs to mind) that I think government has a role in, but I'm very open to a discussion of what that role should be. I'm sure I'm leaving out far too much, but this is enough to get things started. What responsibilities do you think the government should take on?