Government: Protector or provider?
That government is best which governs least.
There’s a lot of talk about what government will do for you. But the Constitution outlines what government should do for you—and there is a wide gap between the two.
The bulk of the Constitution and its Amendments deal with freedom.
It is written to protect the citizens of our country by designating duties and rights.
Article one protects us from tyranny through a balance of powers between the president and congress.
Article two lays out the plan for the military to protect us from aggressors.
Article three establishes the court system to punish those who do wrong, thereby protecting us from unsavory citizens.
Article four protects individual states from each other and from the federal government.
The Amendments largely protect individual rights.
Yet in today’s political climate, we seem to have abandoned the edict of President Kennedy when he declared, "And so, my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.
"My fellow citizens of the world, ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man."
The tendency to look to government for provision, rather that just protection, predated Kennedy.
Under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the government actively began providing jobs in an attempt to work our way out of the Great Depression.
It failed, but the trend continued.
Lately, it has accelerated.
Today, many people look to the government not just for jobs, but for food, healthcare, education and even cash.
Some expect the government to provide our moral compass.
The courts often elevate the rights of criminals above the rights of law-abiding citizens.
Congress has even declared what kind of light bulbs we can put in our homes.
Like a bad rash, government creeps into every area of our lives, with ugly consequences.
But ask yourself this: Other than protecting us, what has the government done well?
What has it done better than private citizens or corporations?
The average person’s motivation for good services and products is simple: reward.
Primarily, the reward is monetary, but often it goes beyond financial gain.
Doctors take pride discovering new healing techniques and treatments.
Creative automakers thrive on innovation.
Wal-Mart found a way to not only sell most everything, but to manage their inventory, employees and systems with such efficiency that they could drive the cost of goods far below any of their competitors, which helps every family, whether rich or poor.
This is the principle of competition.
It pushes us to be better and to do better.
It does not reward poor production, unwanted products or lousy service.
It weeds out the bad and waters the good.
It is the opposite of government.
Government, by its nature, tends to be self-serving and bureaucratic in areas of provision.
Sure, it provides security for the politicians championing the program and provides jobs for the bureaucrats who oversee the operation, but last on the list is the citizen in need.
Look at healthcare: Do we really want our entire system to function like Medicare or Medicaid?
Certainly a safety net is good for those who find themselves at the "bottom" of the medical system, but the government has not adequately provided for a small percentage of people, yet we are discussing whether or not they should care for a wider group.
Jesus laid out a principle that we would be wise to remember.
"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." (Luke 16:10)
The government has not proven to be trustworthy with a little, yet many people want to give it much more.
How many politicians have to become embroiled in scandal before we learn to be wary of them?
Representative William Jefferson of Louisiana was caught with a large amount of cash in his freezer.
He is facing a federal indictment—and he’s running for re-election.
This is a man who, according to his lawyer, is "involved in advancing a lot of businesses on behalf of his constituents and states and in a number of countries throughout the world."
Would you trust him to run your local hospital?
Government that functions best is government that operates closest to home.
City governments can build parks.
State governments can build roads.
But the more that moves to the federal government, the higher the risk for fraud, largess and poor service.
The government is not a good provider.
It was never meant to be.
It functions best when it gets out of the way and allows the good people of this country to go to work, unfettered by excessive regulation and taxation.
Government will always serve best as an enabler of people, not the provider.
Without a compassion love-connection, no amount of money will ease people’s pain or solve problems.
Thomas Paine wrote in one of his essays collectively titled Common Sense, "Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil..."
We cannot afford to give more power to our "necessary evil."
Let it remain in the role of protector; but to better protect ourselves, we must not allow it to expand its role of provider.
To read James’ principles on the proper role of government, read The Absolutes and The Soul of the Nation, available online and in bookstores.