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100 ?’s for Government: What stuff should government keep out of?

January 12, 2013

This is Question 9 from “100 Questions for Government” series

Apart from the occasional anarchist, who in their preferred political system would not have time to read this book as they defended their rights, property and privileges, it appears most people value some form of government.  The primary point of contention seems to be how much government there should be and what it should stick its nose into. If the answer was easy, greater minds than mine (of which there are many) would have worked this out long ago. However, while finding a definitive solution may be problematic, there may be some simple rules that might make the decision process less onerous.

Starting points for these rules might be:

  1. If the issue is not related to the purpose of government (justice, defence, facilitation & protecting the weak) stay out of it
  2. If it’s not broken, don’t try to fix it
  3. If the private sector can do it better, let them
  4. If the public sector can do it better, it should
  5. Leave people alone unless there’s a fantastic reason not to

Unfortunately, these rules are open to a pretty broad spectrum of interpretation. For example:

a)    How much facilitation should be provided?
b)   What’s the definition of “broken”?
c)   What does it mean to do something “better”?
d)   What’s a fantastic reason to not leave people alone?

If we start from the perspective that government is the public sector and business the private sector, this might provide some insight into how to answer these questions. Using the US as an example, the best[1] of the private sector is good at:

a)    Making profits
b)   Creating new products and services
c)   Creating economies of scale and experience
d)   Investing intelligently in technology
e)    Selling
f)    Delivering repetitive or similar products or services
g)   Creating a business relationship

In contrast, the best of the public sector is good at:

a)    Optimizing cost and service
b)   Delivering existing services
c)   Delivering individualized care
d)   Using the technology available
e)    Enforcing rules and laws
f)    Considering the community impact
g)   Creating a caring relationship

Unless our exploration of government leads us to a communist conclusion, there’s no question that a private sector driven by profit is an important part of our economy. However, whether that sector has an advantage over the public sector’s delivery of the same service on a cost basis will be dependent on how bad the public sector is at delivering it. In addition, it is quite possible that a public service may not have cost as its primary measure of success (e.g. helping veteran’s re-enter the workforce, etc.).

Initial Opinion:

Working out where government shouldn’t be is an interesting balancing act. With facilitation of the populace and protection of the weak as key responsibilities, there has to be a temptation for administrations to stick their nose into everything, which is probably not a great idea.

As a gross generalization, smaller government has to be the preferred alternative but as we’ll find later in this book, it may not be where our leadership has wandered so much as how efficiently they have done it and whether they’ve optimized all of the checks and balances.


[1] I’m reflecting on the best of each sector because that’s what we’re trying to playoff

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