The Scope of Government

A lot of the contentious political issues today center on a disagreement over the scope and role of government. There is a vocal contingent who are actively worried (if not outright scared) that economic stimulus programs, corporate bailouts, industry regulations, and healthcare reform are harbingers of Socialism that will destroy America. The rhetoric coming from this corner would seem to pine for a world where capitalism reigned supreme. Let the market sort it out. You frequently hear calls to go back to the way things were in the days of our founding fathers.

I wish there was a way those people could get just a taste of the world which they long for. Ignoring things like slavery and the second class status of women 200 plus years ago, let’s think for just a minute about some of the government regulations, services, and programs that didn’t exist then that we now take for granted. The government assures the safety of the food supply, the purity and delivery of water to your home, electricity, telephone service, roads, the education of your children, and the education and training of professionals (doctors, lawyers, engineers). The government provides safety nets such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance, FEMA, FDIC, and others. Even the notion of a standing army was something our forefathers didn’t foresee.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but with regard to the question of whether or not the government should provide or regulate basic services which are either essential to everyone or create a minimal standard of life we deem “civilized”, that ship has sailed. We have affirmed over and over that this is a role we want our government to play.

Capitalism is not the end-all-be-all. The early 20th century was marked by capitalism running rampant. It yielded robber-barons, child labor, horrific working conditions, and a distinct dichotomy of haves and have-nots. Capitalism proved that it does not have the best interests of the customer or the worker in mind. It’s about making money. Period. Government provides an important balance to capitalism. The economy requires capitalism to flourish, but the citizenry require that it be regulated and contained.

In the end, the issue is not about whether or not government should play a role. Rather the question is what that role should be and how to implement that intervention efficiently, cost effectively, and in a way that doesn’t have an adverse economic impact. It’s time to move past the extreme rhetoric and sound-bites and get to work on crafting solutions to complex problems. We need cooperation and creativity, not pandering and posturing. It’s time to move along.

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