F.10 – The Proper Role of Government

“In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.”

Imagine if more Americans understood the reasons for our political differences and had the best interests of America at heart. What if our representatives were committed to a strategy, plan, and policies that considered the positive aspects of both sides? Just think what could be achieved!

But instead our divide is wider than ever and it seems to be getting worse. And, regretfully, many of our representatives place their own interests and ideological beliefs above the health of our country.

In our article “America’s Political Divide – Understanding our Differences” we examined our history to explain the source of our differences. This article is more forward looking and describes the different political visions that are competing to control our future. The primary thing our politicians argue about is the size, scope and role of our government. But are their different policy initiatives designed to improve the health of our country and the welfare of its citizens? Or, are they actually intended only to benefit those politicians or, do they simply not understand the problems and priorities we face? To answer that question, we must analyze several key ideological differences.

The Vision of the Role of Government

The biggest dispute between the Global Left and the American Right is the role and size of government. Conservatives (American Right) believe in limited government and prioritize individual liberty over collective equality. Progressives (Global Left) believe in a government that prioritizes uniform equality over individual liberty. These differences in vision determine policy preferences.

Constitutional View (American Right) – Conservatives believe the single most important responsibility of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens. Therefore, the proper role of government includes defensive activities such as military and police forces for protection against loss of life, property, and liberty at the hands of enemies or domestic criminals. Conservatives promote equality of opportunity under an effective and fair judicial system. They believe that when government expands its authority to controlling aspects of society it compromises the primary responsibility of government. Conservatives generally support government programs that provide a safety net for the truly needy, but they are concerned that when government controls more aspects of the private sphere it is extremely difficult for the people to retain their liberty.

Progressive View (Global Left) – Progressives focus on equality of outcome and argue that government’s main responsibility is to curb the excesses of individualism and capitalism. They are not against capitalism, but feel government must manage it in ways that benefit more people. As such, they support political and social-reform movements with the goal of making government more responsive to popular economic, social, and political demands. Progressives support national security and law enforcement, but they prioritize funding of domestic programs over maintaining a strong military. They emphasize their vision of equality over ensuring the rights and freedoms of individual citizens. They see discrepancies in society and strive to solve them with government programs that continue to grow even when unsuccessful of counter-productive.

Goodness vs. Truth

Another factor in our political differences is the conflict between goodness and truth. Americans are naturally compassionate and moved by the hardships of others. They are generally supportive of programs that could reduce or prevent these difficult situations. This natural desire to help represents “Goodness”. At the same time, Americans are committed to upholding their traditions, contracts, laws, and agreements. These tendencies represent a difficult dichotomy, especially for government. Although compassionate at an individual level, most Americans understand the risk of violating what they are loyal to and believe is true. The more we violate our principles the less influence these principles have in our society.

Truth / Macro View (American Right) – The Right tends to lean toward tradition and truth over goodness. They have confidence in the natural goodness of human nature. In America, this natural goodness has been demonstrated in churches, charitable organizations and neighborhoods. As a result, they believe the role of government is to ensure an environment and culture where this individual natural goodness can flourish.

Goodness / Micro View (Global Left) – The Left tends to lean toward goodness over truth. They lack confidence in the natural goodness of human nature and feel the government must intervene. They use as examples individual people who have experienced hardship under the current system, and promote programs as if they are silver bullets that will solve a broad family of issues, with little evidence of their efficacy. As a result, individuals are generally harmed and not helped by the new policies.

Change and Evolution

Humans must decide what they should actively change and when to allow things to evolve naturally. But how do we know what to change, when the timing is right, and when to undo past mistakes? These same dynamics apply to politicians and governments. America’s government is in a constant state of change, and often undergoes an unproductive shift from one ideology to the other ideology. But whether it is appropriate for government to try to fix or prevent every perceived injustice in our country or the world is a fundamental question – one often overlooked.

The responsibility for and extent of change is a major element of our political disagreements. The Global Left focuses on the future and strives to evolve into an ideal society. That is why the Left emphasizes science and views the Constitution as a constraining force. The American Right wants to focus on tradition and allow evolution to occur naturally. The American Right also believes in science, but they are more concerned about the risk of unintended consequences that disrupt society and contradict our core values.

Social Engineering (Global Left) – The engineering mindset is a top-down approach. It views the world as extremely complex, a place where optimal evolution occurs when specific goals are defined and qualified experts define the optimal solutions. Under this approach, solutions are mandated for all impacted areas to achieve compliance and uniformity. The engineering approach limits freedom and competition, requires agreement on the vision, goals and priorities, and often results in one-size-fits-all solutions that are slow to evolve.

Innovation Mindset (American Right) – The innovation mindset is bottom-up. It involves building upon or replacing existing concepts with enhancements or new approaches that allow the government to operate more efficiently and/or less expensively. Under this approach, the best ideas are copied, and less effective ideas are phased out. The innovation approach generally occurs more naturally, encourages greater freedom and competition, and results in healthier evolution. This approach results in a “creative destruction”, which can be stressful because people must evolve or are left behind.

Every situation is different and optimal evolution requires a combination of these mindsets. The problem with collective thinking, however is that humans support the collective solutions, as long as they are the ones that they believe in. So instead of unity, each challenge creates more diversity of thought and more friction.

Spending and Investment

Political parties complain about the amount of money spent by the government, but nothing is ever done about it. Where is this money coming from, what is the motivation for spending it, and is it working for or against the will of the people? It has often been said “The love of money is the root of all evil”. And this is especially true for excessive government spending, where it seems the solution to every problem is more spending.

The Gold Standard Act of 1900 reaffirmed America’s commitment to gold and the gold dollar was declared the standard unit of money, with every other form of currency in America able to be exchanged for gold. On June 5, 1933, the FDR administration took the United States off the gold standard, when Congress enacted a joint resolution nullifying the right of creditors to demand payment in gold. Some argue this shift allowed America to invest and reach new heights. Maybe, but it also permitted government to spend without worrying about long range risks (lack of accountability, inflation, corruption and debt).

A significant portion of government spending is exacerbating the problems it is intended to resolve. For example, President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his war on poverty during his State of the Union address on January 8, 1964. Yet, poverty is as much of a problem today as it was in the 1960s. Instead of building a meritocracy that encourages hard work, it established massive welfare programs and created a dependent society that has a negative impact on many of the people it’s designed to help.

Another example of current challenges is America’s student loan debt. Sallie Mae, originally the Student Loan Marketing Association, was created to make college education more accessible to a greater number of people. Today politicians are promoting student loan forgiveness to solve the crisis of massive student debt, this program created. This forgiveness proposal is another unfair and unjustified solution to resolve a problem caused by the overreach of government policy. It does nothing to deal with the underlying conditions (i.e., the exploding cost of a college education) that caused the problem, but in fact makes them worse.

In addition, much of the excess government spending is given to non-profit organizations that use this money to promote special interests that violate our core principles against the people of America.

Republic vs. Populism

America’s founders had a deep knowledge of history and the risk of a corrupt or authoritarian government. With pure genius, they created a system of checks and balances in the Constitution to ensure that power remains with the people of America. But these controls have been weakened. As Benjamin Franklin warned “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

America was created as a representative democracy, a Republic. The concept of a democracy originated with Ancient Greece and involves giving every citizen an equal vote. A pure democracy however, is not feasible in a massive country with a diverse population like America. A Republic is a state in which supreme power is held by the people, but indirectly through their elected representatives. In other words, a Democracy is a political system which is made by/of/for the people, and a Republic is a representative democracy with an elected head of the state known as the President. Populism refers to a range of political stances that emphasize or cater to the will of the people in making policy decisions. But the stability of a Democracy is threatened when the impact of an activist few exceeds the influence of the majority. And controls are weakened when politicians allow the will of the people to override tradition, laws, precedence, and our Constitution.

At this time, America seems to be largely ruled by people who are more concerned with their own interests than the interests of others or the overall health of the country. For example, when people who live in highly populated cities are able to pass laws that benefit themselves to the detriment of the fewer people who live on farms. Or when younger people are able to pass laws that favor themselves over the seniors who built our great country. Over the past decades, we have implemented affirmative action programs that inevitably give advantage to certain citizens at the expense of others. This has created an overly complex and unfair society tainted with blame, envy, resentment, unhappiness, and conflict associated with identity politics and political correctness. In part because of the substantial number of bi-racial births that occur each year in our country, the line between “minority” and “nonminority” is no longer as clearly defined as it may once have been. And who or what would be the arbiter of whether a white woman is more or less disadvantaged than a black man?

Today the battle for control of government by special interest groups has turned into “Win at all costs.” Throughout our history, we have experienced major conflict with our politics, but have been able to maintain our integrity. This seems no longer to be the case.

SUMMARY – A Better Direction

Despite 100 years of effort, the Left’s vision of creating a fairer and more equal society has failed to materialize, and in fact has resulted in a less fair society. Instead of reducing the wealth disparity, a new caste system has evolved in which the ruling class and crony capitalists are wealthy beyond belief, while we the people are struggling.

If you believe in collectivism, you think these problems are caused by too much autonomy. If you believe in individualism, you think these problems are caused by too much government. Throughout world history, the solution to this problem has never been bigger government focusing on more equality. The solution has always been found in controlling the size and power of government, while restoring more liberty to the people. This is a battle between “We the People” against the negative influences of a faceless, emotionless government that spends too much, makes poor decisions, and refuses to give up control. If we fail to come together, this monster will only grow and take away our remaining liberties and collective wealth. Our politicians take an oath to protect our country from enemies foreign and domestic, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to determine the difference.

Learning Circle Discussion

Problem Statement

The U.S. Constitution begins with the words “We the People, in order to create a more perfect union”, which encourages us to continually change and improve. But are the changes we are making moving us closer to a utopia (perfect union) or a dystopia (totalitarian disaster). While modern advances have resulted in a better life for many Americans, there are metrics and trends that are extremely concerning. These include:

  • The rising deficit and debt
  • The entitlement mentality of many Americans
  • The politization and weaponization of America’s Justice System
  • The political divide with our government
  • The threat from America’s enemies both internal and external
  • America’s ability to compete on a global stage
  • The education system that is not adequately preparing our future leaders
  • The rise of racial tensions in American that have evolved in to riots and looting
  • The weakening of checks and balances with our government
  • The government supporting controversial theories such as “Critical Race Theory”

Discussion Questions

  • Are you optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future?
  • What are the biggest risks that we should be focusing on?
  • What role has government policy played in these issues?
  • Why is there such a high level of partisanship in government today?
  • How do the theories of government that have led to this hyper-partisanship?
  • What can be done to achieve unity in America?
  • Can we achieve unity and address the problems of our time at the same time?
  • Should government be heavily involved in cultural issues?