In the current presidential election of 2012, the American people are presented with two distinct choices as to how much government they want. Traditionally, the Democratic Party argues for more while the Republican Party for less. It’s not easy for the people to make a wise choice. The real question is how much is too much, and how less is too little. It’s a matter of finding the right balance through trial and error for there is no clear cut.
What is the duty of government in the first place? Everybody agrees that government should serve the people. Even dictators claim that they are doing it. How should the people be served? I think the role of government consists of three parts — to protect, to prevent, and to promote. Let me point out ten basic principles for which government should be held accountable:
1. Uphold fairness and justice. Don’t be corrupted by money and power.
2. Protect the nation from foreign aggression.
3. Protect the citizens from crimes, fires, floods and other disasters.
4. Protect the citizens from discrimination, exploitation, food and drug poisoning, environmental pollution, business frauds, and false and deceiving information.
5. Provide a safety net for the weak, the poor, and the infirm through health care, social security, and government subsidies.
6. Foster development in various areas to enrich the society especially infrastructure, education, health, the environment, business investments, science, technology, and arts.
7. Prevent potential economic disasters such as inflation, currency upheavals, job loss, recession, and business speculation.
8. Prevent large inequalities developing between rich and poor that can easily lead to social unrest. This is done mainly through progressive taxation.
9. Do not intrude into the private lives of individuals. Respect human rights, and ensure equal rights for all citizens.
10. Do not waste taxpayers’ money. Always try to do more with less through improvement in efficiency.
As you can see, every government in the world has already failed the first principle in varying degrees due to the lust for money. Regarding the other nine principles, many governments consistently fail them due to incompetence and rampant corruption. Some even blatantly ignore their duties to serve the people. Nevertheless, this does not mean that government is the problem. No government is perfect, but it has a very important role to play in society. The real challenge is to make government work better to serve the people. Note that all the developed countries in the world share one thing in common. They have a less corrupt, more efficient and more stable government compared with the less developed countries.
No industry in the private sector can perform the job of government. The reason is very simple. A private company survives on profits while a government survives on taxes. When you go into a private hospital for a serious illness, the first thing they ask is whether you are insured or have enough money to pay. What if you don’t have enough money? Do you want to be left to die in the street? When your house is on fire, you call the fire department to come to the rescue, not a private company. When someone breaks into your house, you call the police, not a private security company. Therefore, we need government to perform all the essential services in society.
The services rendered by government are indivisible and non-discriminatory. When the army fights, it protects the whole country, not a particular group of citizens. When a bridge is built, it serves all the people who use the bridge, including foreign tourists. When taxes are collected, they are spent on serving those in need, not on those who pay more taxes.
A government that does not serve the people will either self-destruct through corruption, or be destroyed by a rebellion or revolution. History offers plenty of examples:
Absolute monarchies had been the most common type of government up to the French Revolution of 1848. They are almost extinct nowadays. Many have given way to constitutional monarchies such as those in Japan, the United Kingdom, Sweden, and the Netherlands.
Communist government seemed to be a viable alternative from the Russian Revolution of 1917 to the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991. The communist government fails because it only serves the communist party instead of the people. The communist party acts like an absolute monarchy where the party owns the government, all the land, and nearly all the businesses. The only thing they fail to own is the minds of the people even with all the propaganda and brainwashing.
The Arab Spring of 2011 teaches us a good lesson. It is the gross injustice resulting from government corruption in those Arab countries. The corruption involves collusion or mutual ownership between big business and government. A powerful sinister force is created as a result. This force does not serve the people, except the special interests of the rich and powerful minority. A spiraling vicious circle results where the rich get richer and the poor poorer. This situation cannot right itself until the anger of the people boils over and overthrows the government.
The above examples demonstrate the demise of powerful governments that overreach. They also demonstrate the demise of corrupt governments that take no responsibility to serve the people. The best solution must lie somewhere in the middle between too much and too little government. A good government should act as an honest and just referee to balance the different interests of the people. As you can see, a government is only as good as the leaders who head it, and the managers who run it. In democratic countries where elections are held, the people must decide what kind of leaders they want to elect as their servants.