Business, government and society

The purpose of government is to help its citizens do for themselves, not to do things for them and certainly not to get in the way of their efforts to help themselves. The Katrina experience has highlighted the inability of government on all levels to act swiftly and effectively. It also highlighted the amazing resiliency of communities, as well as the amazing efficiency of the private sector firms and non-profit organizations.

My conservative friends and I talk about government in rather pejorative terms. That is because it is so facile and fun. It is similar to the way many liberals go after business. But it certainly is not the whole story.

Conservatives don't oppose all government and we don't want government to be weak. We recognize the need for the rule of law. We know there are things that only government can do. But we also recognize the important limits to what government can do and what we should ask it to do.

Sometimes the goal is right, but government is the wrong tool to achieve it. Private entrepreneurial activity and vision, not bureaucratic government, is responsible for most of the heavy lifting. Inviting the government to solve your problem is often like accepting the Kanamit invitation to serve man.

Government is a blunt instrument. It is good at macro things (fighting WWII, building Interstate highways) but it falls down on the details. Private firms can't by themselves win wars or build major highway systems, but they can deliver a pizza to your door thirty minutes after you decide you want one. They are different skill sets. I wouldn't assign Dominoes to take Omaha Beach and it is equally absurd - although less immediately evident - that the government should stay out of food business.

In the U.S., we have a significant third power- private charities. The U.S. is an exception among the world's countries in that so much of our social sector is handled by voluntary organizations. What most Europeans do through their taxes, we do through private charities and NGOs. It has been that way since at least the time of Alexis de Tocqueville and probably won't change anytime soon. It is the part of America that is least understood by foreigners and by many Americans alike.

When each part of our society is strong, we are much better off. I want a strong government, but one that knows its limitations.

Posted by Jack at September 13, 2005 2:36 PM