The State of the State

The Daily Post Weekly Writing Challenge

The challenge of the week allows for a huge range of response but at its core is the question of what we individually believe government should be, and what it should do. This is of course a matter diffused with subjectivity and wishful thinking. What I’m about to describe will never happen for a variety of reasons, most of all reality, but here goes. My vision of a perfect government. Subject to mood and possibly the weather.

If I had to express an ideology it would be vaguely libertarian but with a social conscience. Personal freedom is essentially paramount in the understanding that it is restricted by not infringing upon the personal freedom of others. Government should not have the authority to dictate a person’s tastes or activities that are not demonstrably harmful to societal good, but this is countered by the belief that of course government still has an incredibly important function.

Healthcare, law and order, justice, infrastructure, education, defence, sanitation, and all the other generally common services of government are, in theory, well administered by government. They are the completely necessary elements for an effective modern society, should not be for profit and thus should not be privatised. Society should have no qualms about contributing in fair measure to properly enabling these things, sacrificing a portion of the rewards of their labour.

I believe in regulated capitalism, inherent to which I strongly believe is the notion of social mobility. In practice, capitalism has forged indisputable problems and as part of a complex dynamic involving mainly, but not limited to, education, has created entrenched economic classes. But it is at its heart a good economic model. Individual endeavour, ambition and success should be rewarded, just never disproportionately. Excessive, lavish, unfettered wealth is not desirable.

It may be to an avaricious fool, but at the core of all my beliefs is rational self-interest. And it seems empirically clear that the best way to promote this is to promote societal interest. A good, strong, healthy society is the perfect environment in which the individual can thrive, and I can identify no societal interest in the wealthiest people, even in a nominally modern, post-industrial western nation, possessing an earning power many millions times greater than the poorest.

Good government should be a reflection of a good society, so in both you would expect that there be support for those who need it. Monetary welfare is clearly a contentious issue and I’ve played with ideas of material welfare and so on so forth, but the basic principle is this. Every human is entitled to a basic degree of security and dignity, so a decent, warm home and adequate sustenance is a good start. More than this is up for debate.

“Entitlement”, if you were to take the negative connotation with regards to welfare, is a problem, and while it’s easy to moan about benefit fraud or moochers, in less than egalitarian terms, there should be a realistic acceptance of at least a modicum of frugality should a person be relying solely on the government. But I confess, this is a tricky area as clearly disability or a lack of available employment has no relation to a conscious decision not to contribute.

But welfare shouldn’t be a significant burden on the government that does all the aforementioned things right. In probably the greater majority of cases, the need for welfare is the product of a poorly run system. With a raft of well managed services offering stability, and a well managed economy, there should be less individual vulnerability.

Although here we get to the crux of the matter. It’s all well and good having a thorough and robust concept of what has been discussed, and frankly it’s easy to propose all the theoretical aspects. Communist, socialist, fascist, conservative, liberal, libertarian, technocratic, autocratic, despotic, democratic, monarchic, oligarchic, republican or theocratic, all and more, basically irrelevant.

You need competent people performing competently or it’s all worthless. That’s what I really want from government I suppose, hence my slightly defeatist tone at the start. Competence. The Holy Grail. Underlying most of the failures of every incarnation of government was an idiot who got it wrong, not an integral flaw to the theory behind that government. Just do it right and you’re already somewhere.

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