Tuesday, March 03, 2009

To complain is to volunteer.

Be part of the solution: If you're not part of the solution...

I happen to believe that government should be as small as possible, and structured to do as little as possible. Unlike many Libertarians, it is not because I believe that private enterprise can do things better by definition. There are some things that must be done privately and some areas where you could go either way.

The place where I depart with ideology is here: a government is a means by which a group of people can be well employed doing something worth doing. It has precisely the same basic rationale as a business - but it exists to account for those circumstances where common interests preclude any particular private interest.

Oh, and as an ideal principle, and as a way of testing the value of any particular government enterprise, it should produce the desired net positive outcome at a lower net cost than private enterprise could - if private enterprise could produce any acceptable outcome at all.

This is admittedly a complex idea and it's difficult to reduce to even simple mathematical expressions. You see, while a government should be profitable in terms of "adding value" to the area for which it is responsible, it does it in ways that are inherently and necessarily diffuse.

Take, for example, the building and maintenance of roads and bridges. It's almost impossible to justify a road that goes anywhere you want or need development to occur, without some government involvement or guarantee. Toll roads - a popular Libertarian idea - tend to dissuade people from using them, which in many cases has the effect of making the entire effort pointless - or at least blunting it's point.

And if roads are problematic, public transit is far more difficult to persuade as being directly profitable. They have to be evaluated as being a means to offset other, greater costs, while generating secondary economic effects.

For example, you really do not want people taking their cars into downtown cores. Those cars impose tremendous infrastructure costs, from parking (and enforcement) to pollution to congestion. At some point, people will simply go elsewhere, rather than put up with the "hassle tax."

This can be directly addressed by public transit.

Now, here's the problem with diffuse solutions to socal problems. No diffuse solution can ever be perfect, it cannot possibly solve every possible combination of issues one might raise as an objection to doing it in the first place, etc.

But again, here's where we get back to the entire point of having a government.

You need a mechanism in existence that serves to deal with things that cannot be solved without resolving various conflicts of interest.

Or in other words, a government is called into being by the existence of a "free market," and the absolute necessity for a "commons" in which that market may exist.

That which is literal and obvious in a village becomes difficult to discern when dealing with a congested urban area or, indeed, a nation.

But it becomes obvious again when we see what happens when government is taken over by those who do have a particular ideological vision that absolutely precludes an impartial, pragmatic and informed decision making process; who believe that government is an inherent evil, or who use that simplistic talking point to conceal a more basic lust for unchecked power and a complete lack of qualification for having it.

Governments exist to achieve certain things. In order to do that, they need talented, ethical, responsible people and ethical, responsible, fair and relentless critics. The goal is NOT to have one philosophy of government "win out" over another - the idea is to achieve a workable, useful, satisfactory consensus with a minimax outcome. I suspect that it's possible to mathematically prove that such a minimax outcome is absurdly unlikely if partiasan politics becomes completely divorced from the inescapable view that the objective matters in practical human terms.

Govenrment is not hockey. Hockey is hocky. At the end of the day, it is the game that counts, how well it is played and whether it's fun to watch. Government, on the other hand, must be judged by outcomes; when the process gets in the way, or even precludes dealing with real and serious problems, it's useless. I would suggest this is the fault of the participants - those who are elected, those who are appointed, and those who prefer to let it be somebody else's job.

One way or another - if you have ever complained about the result of government, well one of those roles has obviously not been filled. So, what are you doing that's more important?

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