Do your defenses of government contradict your criticisms of it?


As I discuss the topic of liberty and government with more and more people, there’s a trend that I’ve been noticing.  People will defend government in general if they believe that there are some functions that they approve of.  And for many more conservatively-minded people, there’s trepidation involved in the government no longer fulfilling a role that it’s traditionally performed, especially those considered to be constitutional.

It’s ironic; many people who are furious that the government would ever dare to take control of the healthcare system at the same time will defend the government’s actions in a variety of other aspects in their life.  They believe that without government, the roads would crumble, there would be no police to protect you, and if your house caught on fire, it would burn to the ground.

Many of the arguments used by liberals to defend things like a government-run healthcare system are employed by those who argue in favor of these more traditional roles of government.

“What about the people who don’t buy it?  What are you going to do, let them die?!”

That’s one of the more repeated lines to argue a healthcare system paid for by the government.  It’s also the argument used for the police, fire departments, roads, and the rest.  But what’s the difference?

If the market is capable of providing something as complex as health insurance, why is it not also capable of providing something a little simpler, like a fire department?  Yes, the fire department is something routinely provided by the local government, just like trash collection—most of the time.  There are municipalities that don’t offer trash collection services.  The residents must pay someone themselves if they want their trash collected.

So in these towns, is there trash piled up sky-high at the curb at each house?  Ask the question a different way: would you allow your trash to pile up in front of your house?  I sincerely doubt it, you’d pay someone to come by your house and pick up your trash.  It’s really pretty simple.

Does this relate to something like a fire department?  If the government didn’t provide a fire department, would people’s houses be constantly burning down with no hope of saving them?  Again, frame the question differently: would you allow your house to burn down if it caught on fire, or would you make sure you had some sort of protection?

If left up to you, you’d probably pay some sort of monthly or annual fee to be able to call someone up so they would fight any fires that started on your property.  I know I would at least.  The same goes for any type of service or protection that people feel is necessary for their everyday life.  People purchase their own security systems for their homes.  Some people buy the services of security guards.  Markets provide many necessities in life, but they also provide for many leisure and luxury items too.  If the free market is able to make sure that essentially everyone who wants something as unnecessary to life as some sort of portable digital music device, why can’t it do the same to fulfill actual needs?

Now back to the question I quoted above: what happens to the people who don’t buy it, but find themselves in a position to need it?  This may sound harsh, but you don’t deserve the service if you didn’t pay for it.  This is different from someone who legitimately cannot afford it.  If you have the chance, but say no thanks, what right do you then have to someone’s property when you decide that you need it?  If you are given the product or service after not paying for it, then why would anyone pay?  That just shows that you’re going to get it regardless of previous payments.  The system would inevitably collapse under that scenario whether the government was handling it or the market was.

And remember, would you allow people who didn’t pay their taxes to enjoy the same benefits of government as a taxpayer like you?

Another criticism of the market handling the traditional functions of government is the idea that people don’t trust businesses to not take advantage of them.  They also don’t trust that one wouldn’t amass all of the power and take complete control of the market.

The first response to this notion is that while you don’t want a business to take advantage of you because their product or service is the only one available to you, there’s a major contradiction in that you’re more than happy to give that same power to the monopoly that is government.  What’s to prevent the government from becoming corrupt?  What’s to prevent the government from taking your money while pledging something in return only to renege on the promise?  You can fire a business, but good luck trying to fire your government.  The funny thing is, no matter what your political persuasion is, I don’t think that there’s anyone completely satisfied with the performance of the government.  Some people take issue with the removal of civil liberties, others with the ruining of economic liberty.  Even people who believe that many of these big government programs should exist are frustrated that they weren’t built in a way they should have been.

The second response to the criticism is that in what sectors of the economy where there’s a somewhat free market (and without the government granting a monopoly) has one business or corporation taken complete control?  Food is one of the most important necessities there is, so just go to a supermarket and look for one specific item and tell me how many brands you have to choose from.  Which supermarket do you go to?  I don’t know, you tell me—you have a ton of choices on where you go to have the choice on which brand to buy.

Take a look at any government program out there that you believe should exist.  Can you think of any ways that the market could provide it?  If not, do any of the arguments that you use in favor of it match any arguments that others use in favor of programs you disapprove of?  Can you justify these inconsistencies?

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[…] inevitable response to this, much like the responses to challenging almost any government program, is “That’s all well and good that you’d plan your own retirement, but what about the people […]