At this time with so many challenges facing humanity, it is more crucial than ever that we band together using objective means of measurement and clear thinking in identifying, understanding, and finding solutions to our shared problems. Autonomy of the individual is very important, for our freedoms allow us to be fulfilled and happy. However, the public sphere cannot and should not be populated by subjective beliefs, if we are to maintain our civilizations and quality of life. This blog is dedicated to examining the political, religious, psychological, and philosophical aspects of our modern discourse in the public sphere, endorsing that which is beneficial, and exposing that which is not.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Case For Limited Government

This is a piece written by my Brother in Law, Derek Martin, in response to my request for writing a defense of conservatism.

I don’t think that government is evil. We need the government to do some things for us. I just think its role should be pretty small. Establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity sums it up pretty good.

Note that our founders wrote “promote” the general welfare, not “provide”. This seems similar to the pursuit of happiness being an unalienable right, not simply happiness. Government should set the rules of the game (regulation) and enforce them, but step back and let the players play. Be a protector, not a provider. John Locke wrote, “The care therefore of every man's soul belongs unto himself, and is to be left unto himself. But what if he neglect the care of his soul? I answer, what if he neglects the care of his health, or of his estate, which things are nearer related to the government of the magistrate than the other? Will the magistrate provide by an express law, that such one shall not become poor or sick? Laws provide, as much as is possible, that the goods and health of subjects be not injured by the fraud and violence of others; they do not guard them from the negligence or Ill-husbandry of the possessors themselves."

It seems like limited government would be an easy sell. Examples of government programs, grants, and departments that are inefficient and waste money are not hard to find. It seems common for them to extend beyond their intended life (how many toll roads are still toll roads after they’ve paid for themselves), expand beyond their initial size (the income tax), or simply be excessive (insert your own example here).

Why is this so common? Simply because the most powerful incentives—competition and profit/loss—don’t exist in the public sector. Who do Amtrak and the Postal Service compete against? When a public entity is losing money, its typical reaction is to ask for more money. When a private entity is losing money, it must improve somehow, whether that be a better product, better service, a more efficient operation, or innovation.

Too often we focus on the intent of government action and not the results (e.g. The War on Poverty). If the intent is noble then the action is presumed to be noble. Put emotion aside and examine each action: is it achieving its intended purpose? How effectively was this issue dealt with prior to government action?

The blessing of liberty is the freedom to plot our own course. It is not a guarantee that we will be successful, however we define success. Government should give us a chance to reach our dreams, not ensure that we do. In trying to ensure that we do, the dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.


  1. It's not so much that I disagree so much as am skeptical about this whole post.

    Yes, you used a lot more support than I am accustomed to reading in a conservative post, but it is still far to broad and unspecific to form a reasonable opinion off of.

    1. You didn't adress opposing arguments

    2. I have always found references to the founders to be a horribly weak position. Things should be weighed according to pros and cons, not the opinions of dead people. I mean... if England or France used "the founder" argument they would be horribly backwards as the US would be if we keep doing this kind of thing. I am also wary of this kind of support because it seems to disguise poor arguments.

    3."Government should set the rules of the game (regulation) and enforce them, but step back and let the players play."

    Um... BP and AEG anyone? All of this stuff sounds great in principle but when the few have the power to destroy the many, some of us want a strong government to make them get over themselves or face the consequences.

    4. "Intent=results"
    That is a matter of capability, not principle. Or should we wait for those Bush tax cuts to "trickle down?"

    Conservatism comes from the pseudo-religious or just flat religious idealism that says that people are "entitled" or "earn their position" in life or that poor people are "lazy" or "deserve what they get." Life is structured by luck. Hard workers go bankrupt, the lazy entitled are born rich and make shit products for high profit simply because they have the connections.
    Things aren't fair and people don't necessarily deserve what they have. When people "play the game" with no refs to watch them, people have their lives messed up.

    That is not to say that we should blindly trust government so much as we need government because you can clearly NOT trust people. At least in some sense you can pick your politicians. You can't pick the small percentage of entitled who control well over half of the money in the world.

  2. I don't think that anyone would argue with the idea of limited government. I don't hear anyone clamoring for totalitarianism. The question is: Just exactly what does the term limited government mean? And, if regulation is necessary and expected, how much regulation is good? I agree that business interests, both large and small, are integral to the success of our economy, and thus our success as a whole. To that end, I also agree that businesses should be allowed to run as they see fit, in a profitable manner. However, if there is any need for regulation, why is there that need? Is it not to maintain a level playing field for those who wish to start a business, to protect them from those already established, as well as to provide for the interests of the public that are not considered in the goals of the business or corporate model (environmental issues etc.)? I guess what I really want to know is what definition of conservatism are you defending? It seems as though there is a hybrid version here, that I would identify as a moderate stance.

    To FreeYourMInd: Referring to the founding fathers in an argument of politics, especially when quoting from the founding documents, is valid because we base our government on these founding documents. Our Judicial branch of government is dedicated to interpreting the main founding document, The Constitution, to ensure that it is not violated by any laws or misuses of Federal powers. Though I do agree that a consequential argument should be addressed as well, and given prominence in a discussion, I also see that the intention and words of our founders are important to determining our current political course.