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The Common Good
October 9, 2007 8:24 PM   Subscribe

Government is good. An unapologetic defense of a vital institution.

We Need to Stand Up for Government

The Forgotten Achievements of Government

How Government is Good for Business

What is Really Wrong with Government and How to Fix It

A Day in Your Life (via)
posted by edverb (25 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
So..apart from that, what have the Romans ever done for us?
posted by Sk4n at 8:28 PM on October 9, 2007 [4 favorites]


I don't know, it seems a bit biased to me.
posted by benk at 8:30 PM on October 9, 2007


The last twenty years of anti-government diatribe were analogous to claiming that football is popular because it has no rules, therefore we should get rid of the rules. Arguably the riskiest non-sequitur in modern human history.
posted by Brian B. at 8:45 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


Brian B, interesting you should mention the rules of football. The author uses a related analogy in the follow-on to "How Government is Good for Business" -- the article "Capitalism Requires Government":
Football and Capitalism: The Rules Make the Game

Consider this analogy: free-market capitalism is constituted by government laws in the same way that sports are constituted by their rules. When we watch football, for instance, we usually see it as a freewheeling game with exciting runs and daring passes. But in reality, football is a highly circumscribed and regulated activity. It is only made possible of a large numbers of rules and regulations that cover everything ranging from the size of the field and the ball, to the number of downs, how scoring occurs, how tackling and blocking must take place, what constitutes a legal play, and so on. And without referees to interpret and enforce these rules, football as we know it would descend into chaos. The defining nature of these rules is shown by the fact that there are different kinds of football, depending on the rules. In Canada, for instance, the field is much larger, teams have one more player, and there are only three downs. In Arena League football, the clock rarely stops, the fields and goal posts are much smaller, and substitutions are very limited. The rules make the game.

Just as rules can create different kinds of football, government laws can create different kinds of capitalism and market relations. This clearly shows how market economies are actually political constructions – with their basic institutional arrangements being developed and managed by government rules. In some European countries, for instance, the government has not granted to firms the broad property rights that corporations have in the United States. This means, among other things, that large businesses are not free to simply move facilities from one region of the country to another. Because these relocations can dramatically alter the economic fortunes of entire communities, businesses must apply to the government for permission to move. In addition, in many other Western countries, government laws give much more power to unions in their relationships with businesses – thus altering the basic nature of the labor market. In some places, for instance, unions are actually mandated by law. These kind of market relations are no more or less “natural” than those we have in the United States. There is no one natural form of market relations – just as there is no one “natural” form of football. This is simply an illusion that business interests and conservatives like to foster. Capitalism itself can take on different forms depending on the government rules that form it.
posted by edverb at 8:53 PM on October 9, 2007


Good government is good.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 9:01 PM on October 9, 2007 [2 favorites]


The scariest words that one human being can hear spoken by another are: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help!"

Hahahaharhahrhahhhar. Hahahhaha!

*runs away. . .*
posted by washburn at 9:01 PM on October 9, 2007


Organization is good.
Government ≠ Organization but it will do in a pinch.
posted by king walnut at 9:08 PM on October 9, 2007 [1 favorite]


The scariest words that one human being can hear spoken by another are: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help!"

That's a famous quote attributed to Ronald Reagan, who borrowed many times more than he offered in tax cuts. He's still famous for those tax cuts thanks to the corporate sponsorship of his legacy.
posted by Brian B. at 9:09 PM on October 9, 2007


The scariest words that one human being can hear spoken by another are: "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help!"

Scarier still is the prospect of people in desperate need of help, who hear nothing from their government at all. Ask Marie Antoinette.

or see a more recent example.
posted by edverb at 9:18 PM on October 9, 2007


The scariest words that one human being can hear while hanging around by the snack table at a party next to a guy who has long hair and kind of looks like he might be cool are:

I'm a libertarian, let's talk about politics.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:43 PM on October 9, 2007 [3 favorites]


This is a great site. Some of my friends are anti-government to the point of irrationality - it's only when you point out specific examples that they actually think about their position. Most of them arrived at that position because of propaganda and never had anyone defend government - this could be a central grounding message for the Democratic position.
posted by stbalbach at 10:07 PM on October 9, 2007


"In some European countries, for instance, the government has not granted to firms the broad property rights that corporations have in the United States. This means, among other things, that large businesses are not free to simply move facilities from one region of the country to another. Because these relocations can dramatically alter the economic fortunes of entire communities, businesses must apply to the government for permission to move. In addition, in many other Western countries, government laws give much more power to unions in their relationships with businesses – thus altering the basic nature of the labor market. In some places, for instance, unions are actually mandated by law. These kind of market relations are no more or less “natural” than those we have in the United States. There is no one natural form of market relations – just as there is no one “natural” form of football. This is simply an illusion that business interests and conservatives like to foster. Capitalism itself can take on different forms depending on the government rules that form it."

I like this website. I think it makes good, clear arguments for the government, which are sorely lacking from today's discourse in America. But I think these rules are partly rooted in or a product of American culture and values, and I don't see American people's basic values and feelings about matters such as this changing anytime soon.
posted by ofthestrait at 11:03 PM on October 9, 2007


Everyone here who has ever voluntarily overpaid on your income taxes, party on. The rest of you, STFU.
posted by oncogenesis at 11:36 PM on October 9, 2007


I believe that government should be small enough that we could drown it in a tub, if necessary. Other things that should be small enough to drown in a tub:

1. My father
2. The guy on the bus who smells like poo
3. Werewolves
4. Ex-girlfriends
5. Tubgirl
posted by Astro Zombie at 11:44 PM on October 9, 2007


There are lots of governments that can be good. Imagine government emanates from yourself, and spirals or extends outward, each operating in a connected but distinct sphere: Government manifests itself in many ways, doesn't always need to depend on the "monopoly of violence" theory as Weber calls it, and is not always defined by laws. We must govern our own hearts before we can govern others, and when we can do that, the other layers of government become less and less necessary.
posted by chlorus at 12:45 AM on October 10, 2007


Football and Capitalism: The Rules Make the Game

And association football is better than any other kind of football because the rules are fewer and simpler :)
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:45 AM on October 10, 2007


I think this is a bit of a phoney war.

First, it doesn't seem to me that the concept of government itself is under attack. There's a strong belief among some that the government is too big, but even fairly hardcore libertarians believe in some minimal government for national defence and contract enforcements. Defending the idea of government seems to me a bit of a straw man, because it's easier than defending the current size.

Second, if you look at the numbers, there's a graph here showing government spending as a share of GDP. If you look at the blue and yellow lines showing the US Federal government, it gradually rises to the 1970s and then pretty much levels off.

There doesn't seem much evidence to me either that the Federal spending is either ballooning uncontrollably, or being pared to the bone. It seems to have been ticking away at about 20% of GDP for the last few decades.

Admittedly there does seem to have been a noticeable rise in state and local spending. But if conservatives are attacking the size of government, they don't seem to be winning.

Finally, I think China Mieville makes a good point in this article on libertarianism. The people complaining about too much taxation and government are not the powerful. The rich and powerful have accountants to dodge taxes, and they get richer thanks to lucrative government contracts. They don't hate government: they love government, and the bigger the better.

The reason the anti-government rhetoric is so vehement is to compensate for its emptiness. The petit bourgeoisie complain about excessive government, but the true ruling class are never going to give them more than lip-service.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 4:09 AM on October 10, 2007


First, it doesn't seem to me that the concept of government itself is under attack. ...even fairly hardcore libertarians believe in some minimal government...

And when doing so, they call it "a necessary evil". That sounds like an attack on the concept of government to me.

The rest of your comment is concerned with evidence which, needless to say, teh lol--as though anti-government nutjobs ever relied on evidence in the past (Laffer Curve, I'm looking at you).
posted by DU at 6:24 AM on October 10, 2007


Excellent use of the TITLE attribute, edverb. Link-only post done right.
posted by lodurr at 6:27 AM on October 10, 2007


DU: Do you have any more specific objection to the evidence than "teh lol"?

Or, do you have any data showing that the campaign against big government has succeeded in making it smaller?

I think you're growing a bit soft in the tranquil environment of Metafilter. I'm sure you used to keep up at least a pretence of being evidence-based not faith-based, once...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 7:00 AM on October 10, 2007


Or, do you have any data showing that the campaign against big government has succeeded in making it smaller?

The pretense of smaller government & privitaztion of gov't functions has been the ideological underpinning including but not limited to:

-Maintaining outsourced diplomatic security in Iraq to Blackwater, and privitazation of military functions generally
-Bush's recent veto of S-CHIP expansion on ideological (not financial, not procedural) grounds.
-Budget cuts and freezes, and weakening of business regulations-- too numerous to mention

I could go on a vast linkhunt to support each of these, but I'll spare it. We all have heard the refrain, and we're watching the effects of these arguments in office in this decade.

Point being -- the catch-all argument against "big government" isn't consistent with all GOP/conservative actions, but you cannot deny it's pervasiveness.

Basically, the dirty little secret is -- government programs which benefit the wealthy (tax cuts to the top 1%, killing the estate tax, corporate subsidies, the bankruptcy bill, even anti-net neutrality arguments) are deemed a reduction in gov't "interference" and are sound free market principle in legislation.

On the flip side, any government regulation aimed at helping the lot of common citizens (SCHIP expansion and healthcare subsidization in general, an increase in minimum wage, reductions in student loan interest, mandating net neutrality, etc) are demonized as big government/socialism.

Hell, you don't need to look far to find such selective interpretation (hypocrisy) on this ideological argument that pretends to hold "big, bad, incompetent, wasteful government" as it's lynchpin.

Research dollars that benefit big pharma are welcomed, embraced, and protected. Research dollars that fund embryonic stem cell research are met with "get your own damn money -- government shouldn't be funding it, the free market should." The argument has absolutely nothing to do with government funding of research -- it's the wielding of an ideological cudgel to selectively support or deny things on political grounds. These arguments rest (at least partially) on the potency of the "big government" canard.

This ridiculous argument which reduces everything to "big government", which is unsupported and a non-sequitur, has gone unchallenged for long enough. The stakes are huge, as they undermine public safety regulations, environmental protection, emergency management, child health and welfare, and more. This spin can kill and it's time it was scrutinized.
posted by edverb at 8:05 AM on October 10, 2007 [4 favorites]


Or, do you have any data showing that the campaign against big government has succeeded in making it smaller?

Is that the purpose of the campaign?

The position you seem to be trying to defend is that "nobody really espouses hate of the government". Taking a look around and saying "nope--the government is still here" first of all disregards the question of competence and effectiveness on the part of the haters. But even if we assume they are competent, who says that running against the government is the same as actually doing anything about it?

We've seen this on a number of other issues, particularly religious ones. Run against abortion...but don't actually make it a crime. Run against gays...but make no movement on the promise of a constitutional amendment. Run against government...but...?

(Then again, your last paragraph seems to be making the same point. So maybe I latched too quickly onto your first bullet of "nobody attacking the concept".)
posted by DU at 8:20 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


Since the first sentence was absolutely false, I chose not to read the rest.
posted by tadellin at 9:04 AM on October 10, 2007


I don't think impotent hatred has any great significance.

For instance, a lot of people hate George W. Bush, but they haven't had any great success in impeaching him, stopping his re-election, or cancelling his policies. Considered as an actual "attack" then, it's not very powerful.

Similarly, the hatred of government has not been successful in reducing the size of the government.

The Bush administration has been happy to spend roughly as much as previous administrations, especially if the money ends up in the pockets of its supporters.

Since the petit bourgeois whining about taxes and big government is ignored now, I doubt it would make much difference if they changed their minds and decided big government was a good thing after all.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 9:19 AM on October 10, 2007 [1 favorite]


TheophileEscargot: Since the petit bourgeois whining about taxes and big government is ignored now, I doubt it would make much difference if they changed their minds and decided big government was a good thing after all.
I think you're completely wrong on that front, TE- the politicians like Bush who get elected on a platform of "drown the gubmint in the bathtub" wouldn't be as readily elected if the great unwashed masses decided they wanted a "higher taxes/social services" candidate instead. So while we'd pay as much or more in taxes, they'd go to services that were more left-leaning, as opposed to the quietly using the same tax payer money to line their own and their biggest friends/contributors' pockets via lucrative contracts.
posted by hincandenza at 1:02 PM on October 10, 2007


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