Government evolves as human society develops. A primitive form of government is just a village elder or tribal chief voicing opinions, making decisions and issuing orders. Government grows with the formation of a group of subordinates to carry out the orders of the leader. A government must have a top leader ruling over many who are willing to be led. In modern days, we see a broad spectrum of national governments that can be roughly described as monarchy, military dictatorship, religious theocracy, constitutional democracy, or a mixture of those. Their economies are labeled as capitalist, socialist or communist, and are characterized by the degree of control the government exerts.
Throughout history, the dominant form of government is absolute monarchy where the king owns everything including the lives of his subjects. The laws are the words spoken by the monarch and vary according to his whims. This gives absolute power to the king and his government which administers in his name. Conversely, constitutional democracy is a new form of government only born in the 18th century where laws protecting the citizens are drafted by their representatives, and are written down in the constitution that can only be changed by the majority through the voting process. Thus power seems to pass from the king to the majority of the people. We should not be too naive to think that the majority of the people rule in a democracy. The reason is that some groups of people will bribe government officials to make laws favorable to their self-interests.
A good government should not be defined by the labels or descriptions attached to them. There exist many periods throughout history where people in different countries were ruled by good governments as revealed by their folklore, songs and writings. On the other hand, there are no simple predefined rules as to what makes a good government. Let’s employ some common-sense to determine what a good government should be.
In the old times, a good government depended totally on a moral, just and kind monarch who ruled over his people by employing administrators who reflected his character. It’s much more complicated nowadays due to technological progress bringing forth a complex modern society. Simply said, a good government should foster the public good so that the majority of citizens will benefit now and well into the future despite opposition from some powerful groups. It is a delicate balancing act depending on persuasion and leadership without being corrupted by money. Then what constitute the public good?
The public good comprises all the big things that are good for the country and last into the future. The goals should be broad but concrete enough to convey a high purpose. The following list of actions should be pursued by a good government:
Ensure safety and security of the public. This does not mean maintaining the largest police or military force. Else, it would lead to a police state or dictatorship.
Enhance the employment and livelihood of the citizens by avoiding cumbersome laws and regulations that may hamper business development. At the same time, employ protective laws and regulations to level the playing field and ensure fair competition in the business sector where the strong tend to eat the weak using predatory practices.
Even in a booming economy, many people will fail because of sickness and bad luck due to no fault of their own. A good government should take care of those in need by providing them with a safety net. A good government should not leave behind an underclass who feel they have nothing to lose for this is where social instability lies.
A useful indicator of good government is the state of the so-called middle class that comprises the majority of citizens. When members of the middle class feel insecure about their future, the government has not done enough for the public good because it lets the majority down.
A good government invests in the future. This includes: education, health care, infrastructure, defense/security, basic scientific research, enhancing the arts, and protecting the natural environment. All of these areas the business sector finds it unprofitable to act in the short run. The government must fill in the void.
A good government will make the country and the economy strong in many ways. Other countries will look up to its achievements and will follow. This is where influence and world leadership begin. A country’s strong leadership in the world depends on its strength inside, not a large military force protecting an empty shell.
Since a government spends money on social projects through collecting taxes, it cannot be expected to behave like a business organization based on profit. However, a good government should conduct efficiently like any business organization. How? by listening to the people whom it serves, minimizing red tape, and trying to do more with less. While people in business work smart to make a buck, people in government work smart to enhance the public good.
A bad government will lead to social deterioration in many ways especially in the huge gap between rich and poor. The few rich living in a sea of poor is a prescription for revolution as happened in many countries.
Since a government is composed of people working in it. A good government ultimately depends on the character and personal integrity of the leading officials who conduct themselves by good examples of morality, justice and fairness.