A friend on Facebook asked which would be better: too much government, or too little. The title of this post was my glib response. Facebook doesn’t lend itself to complex answers. The question itself is a bit simplistic. To be fair, my friend was fishing for material for his writing. He likes to prompt discussions and then use the ensuing arguments in his books. Regardless, after some thought, this is my response.
The decision shouldn’t be about quantity of government, but rather about the targeting and goals of it. For example, would you prefer to ensure that everyone who needs unemployment gets it, even if a few people game the system, or would you prefer to restrict it so that the system can’t be gamed, but a few people who need help don’t get it? For me, this is a clear cut moral choice. I am willing to pay the tiny amount extra to make sure everyone who needs help gets it even though some freeloaders get by.
Another example: Would you prefer to prevent all pollution of the nation’s water supply even though it might make some companies less profitable, or would you prefer to protect the businesses even though some lakes and streams might be poisoned? Again an easy choice. The short term profits of a coal or chemical company can’t compare in importance to the very ecosystem which sustains human life, even if we have to pay more for their products.
Both examples above illustrate situations where I favor too much government over too little. Here are a couple where I swing the other way. Should the government regulate the recreational use of drugs, including narcotics, because there could be a cost to society from their abuse, or should drug use be uninhibited by adults with clear consequences borne entirely by the user in cases of abuse? I favor less government in this case. There is no reason why any drug should be treated differently from alcohol. Prohibition simply creates, enriches, and empowers a criminal class. We have dozens of Al Capones terrorizing Mexico and Central America because of our draconic drug laws. We need laws against doing certain things while intoxicated, and treatment for addiction, no more.
Another example: Should motorcycle riders be required to wear helmets and drivers and passengers in automobiles be required to wear seat belts in order to save lives and lower the societal cost of accidents, or should people be able to decide for themselves the risk they wish to take. In this case, I am in favor of mandating the installation of seat belts in cars, but not their use, nor that of helmets. Fairer would be allowing insurance companies to charge higher premiums for people who don’t use them.
The one issue I have the most difficulty with is abortion. I absolutely believe a woman should control her own body and have the option to terminate a pregnancy up to a point, and that her life should always take precedence over that of the child unless she chooses otherwise. I am uncertain about abortion on demand after the point at which a baby can survive if it is born. Religion should have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on this, unless it is the religion of the mother. Science, on the other hand, complicates the issue. At viability, with no life threat to the mother, should caesarian or induced labor be required, with the baby given up for adoption? I don’t know.
We live in a nation of 350 million unique, thinking, feeling people, who have to coexist within a governmental structure that serves all of them as well as possible. We will never reach Goldilocks’ “just right”, but we have put in place a system of deliberation, checks and balances that has, for two and a half centuries, managed to evolve to meet our needs. The key is to make sure the stewardship of that system is in thoughtful, intelligent, compassionate hands. Let’s remember that next election day.
PS, that beautiful girl in the photo is my granddaughter, who would make a fabulous president, and may someday do just that.