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Two Views of Government

A Choice Between Two Views

There are two distinctly different approaches to the appropriate role of government. One is more activist and the other is more limited. 

We have seen bursts of growth in government, especially in the New Deal of the 1930’s and the Great Society of the 1960’s. Today, the Obama Administration and the Democrats in Congress are pushing for a third great wave of government. 

Already, government is more involved in the daily lives of individual Americans than the Founders could ever have imagined. Health care, education, income support, food, shelter, recreation – there is virtually no part of daily life that government does not touch or seemingly want to control. 

Think government is not big and powerful in America today? Try not paying your taxes, or try not paying your parking ticket, or try getting away with something really offensive, like not separating recyclables into the proper bin. You will be found. 

Often with the best of intentions, the pressure for more government involvement is constant. Being human, we are never satisfied with our current situation. We always want to improve it, or, too often, we want others to improve it for us. With instantaneous communication and an infinite amount of information at our fingertips, we know more about what we have -- and about what we would like to have -- than ever before. A government safety net to provide a minimal level of support is often not enough. 

Part of human nature is to want what others have in a continual push for equality of outcome, not just equality of opportunity. (Of course, some will argue that a poor child can never have the same opportunities as a wealthy child, so we must even the playing field between them. Opportunity and outcome end up being the same thing.) 

In the relentless push toward equality, disparities cannot be accepted. Everyone must be able to get the same education, the same health care, the same income. 

It thus becomes an “inalienable right” to have the best health care our country can provide – or at least health care no worse than anyone else’s. Everyone must be treated the same, and government is the only organization big and powerful enough to ensure equality of outcome. Thus, government must grow, under this view of the world. 

The push for equality in outcome is the force behind the Obama push for health care reform, global warming and energy regulation, new taxes, banking and financial regulation, and more. This attempt to smooth out inequalities, and put everyone on the same level, even if it is a lower level of quality. 

But there is also something more. Advocates of activist government bring an attitude of “we know what is best for you.” Not trusting the individual to make choices, some of which may not be wise, these advocates would have the government make the choice for them and would feel sure that they will be better off. 

The other view of government’s role and purpose rests in individual liberty, knowing that if each person is given opportunity, not all will use that opportunity successfully. Outcomes will be different. Yet, mandating equal outcomes limits the heights that some can achieve. 

Leaving one to rise or fall based on ability, hard-work, or pure chance leads to unequal results. And we must be willing to live with that. 

This view focuses on each individual receiving the Creator-given rights to which he or she is entitled rather than as part of a group or in comparison with others. It is individual focused. 

As de Tocqueville realized in 1848, 

"Democracy extends the sphere of individual freedom; socialism restricts it. Democracy attaches all possible value to each man; socialism makes each man a mere agent, a mere number. Democracy and socialism have nothing in common but one word: equality. But notice the difference: while democracy seeks equality in liberty; socialism seeks equality in restraint and servitude.” (Quoted in F. A. Hayek, "The Road to Serfdom," p. 77).

And Spalding affirms: 

"From the Founders’ point of view, rights are inherently possessed by each and every individual and are turned into civil rights that apply equally to all persons through the constitutional process…Associating rights with interest groups gives rise to unlimited rights claims and endless legal battles and also leaves the core rights to wither as mere values, subject to shifting political opinion and court majorities. (Matthew Spalding, "We Still Hold These Truths," 2009, p. 203).

Core individual rights, bestowed by our Creator, are the things to value and safeguard above all else. 

The limited government view holds that not everything that should happen, should be mandated by government. As flawed beings, we know that there will always be injustice and unfairness in the world. We see a problem and naturally want it solved. We demand government, which after all we fund with our taxes, to do it. But we often do not stop to ask ourselves whether we want government to try to solve all of the problems we find. What if government’s idea of fairness is different from our own? What if, to solve a problem, government must limit my choices, control my behavior? How far should that control go? 

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