Who Ensures Liberty and Justice for All

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The Lorax spoke for the trees. At the dawn of the American nation, Madison, Hamilton and Jay spoke for the Constitution. In the present age will the Tea Party be the primary voice to define the size, scope and purpose of government?

The purpose of government – national or local – is to promote the general welfare. To this end citizens consent to be taxed. But exactly what does it mean to be a taxpayer? Taxpayers fill treasuries. However, it is citizens that build communities in which people want to live.

The concept of “vending machine government,” where the service one receives is equal to the fee one pays, was long ago dismissed as inadequate for any society that pretends to care for equity and justice. Yet here the debate still rages today. Government is wasteful, fraudulent and abusive. Taxpayers say they want “essential” services, which often only include police, water and sanitation. Is this the path to “a more perfect Union?” Presently the Union has 44 million people (1 in 7 families) living in poverty according to the Census Bureau.

The value of government cannot properly be measured by the number of discrete services a resident receives. Rather, government must be valued for its collective benefit and for its role protecting the rights of the many from the absolute rights of the individual.

Can the nation survive with less government? Of course it can. Fewer services are being delivered at the local level today than was the case just two years ago. In a crisis gaps get filled by volunteers and once risky innovations no longer look so dangerous.

But, it is false to argue that if less government is good, then no government is better. Absent government there is no commitment to civil society, no mutuality of interests and no shared responsibility. The result is the “state of nature,” which Thomas Hobbes so colorfully characterized as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.”

It is for the good of all that an ambulance arrives five minutes after dialing 911, that water flows from kitchen sinks, that library books are available, that autumn leaves fall from trees in public parks, and that the homeless are not abandoned to the elements in the dead of winter.

Great societies are built at a price. But the price is small when compared to the benefits.