Why We Hate Government

Everyone hates the government, but there are times when every faction opposed to it comes vigorously to its defence, for different reasons. What’s the reason for this love/hate relationship, and is there a solution for re-forming government in a way that might make everyone (other than government exploiters) happy?

Conservatives and progressives each have a different beef with government. Social conservatives like laws that reinforce their personal values, and want government to uphold such laws and enforcement agencies to enforce them. But ultimately they believe that if families and communities did the job of instilling such values in people, and disciplining those who violated them, there would be little need for government to step in and do so. Government is needed to act when those of weak and flawed moral character fail to do so, and are not reprimanded by their peers for doing so.

Economic conservatives believe in the untrammeled free market, and think that, if the government would just butt out, the economic system would regulate itself in the collective interest. Those who are also social conservatives accept that government is needed to deal with moral failings, while those who are true libertarians, like anarchists at the opposite end of the political spectrum, would like government to devolve its authority to the family or the community i.e. to groups who are personally and directly affected by the decisions they make, and personally and directly responsible to those same family and community members for those decisions. It’s pretty hard to make a bad decision when everyone affected is watching you make it and holding you accountable for it, with the right to override you if you screw up. Libertarians see a need for government only in times of great crisis, and see it abolishing itself as soon as that minimum intervention is complete.

Progressives see imbalances and abuses of power and wealth as inevitable, and see a role of government to rebalance power and wealth and to help those who are simply unable to help themselves. They are, for the most part, opposed to government playing a moral role in society, though they generally recognize that laws are needed to control those who harm others.

Everyone acknowledges that government brings with it bureaucracy and the risk of abuse of power, and most agree that the bigger government gets the more prone it is to these problems, though small, local governments and power authorities can also abuse power, and sometimes need oversight from larger governments to rein in their excesses.

In short, the attitudes of these four groups towards government and regulation are as follows:

Government & Regulation are needed to: But are not needed to:
Social Conservatives Act when those of weak/flawed moral character fail to do so. Regulate people of ‘good’ character.
Economic Conservatives Act when those of weak/flawed moral character fail to do so. Regulate economic activity otherwise.
Libertarians/Anarchists Act only in times of great crisis when social order breaks down. Regulate people in normal times.
Progressives Rebalance power and help those who cannot help themselves. Regulate people in matters of morality unless they harm others

Each group has a compelling argument in theory. The differences lie in how each group sees the real world. The flaw in the social conservatives’ argument is that what is ‘weak or flawed moral behaviour’ and ‘good’ character is not something everyone can agree upon. The flaw in the economic conservatives’ argument is that we have never had a ‘free’ market or anything vaguely like it, and unless power imbalances could be magically and instantly eradicated we could never hope to eliminate all the deformities (exchange regulations, subsidies, price-fixing, government interference, patronage, large-scale fraud and corruption) that prevent the market from operating as it ideally should. The flaw in the libertarians’ and anarchists’ argument is the belief that most people at the community level have the knowledge and skill to self-manage, that inequalities between different communities can be eliminated, that the ‘small-town Southern sheriff’ syndrome (local abuse of power by psychopaths) can be solved locally, and that large governments will ever be inclined to devolve their authority or abolish themselves in non-crisis times. The flaw in the progressives’ argument is that large social organizations can effectively rebalance wealth and power, and help those who cannot help themselves, efficiently, effectively and equitably, and without wasting much of the resources they are allocated in bureaucracy and administration.

What it all comes down to is that we cannot trust people with power and wealth not to abuse it, and it rein it in through government and regulation we need to give the government and regulation sufficient power and wealth to combat it. Many studies have shown that the rate of lawlessness, the degree of complexity and severity of laws, and the rate of incarceration, correlate most highly with the degree of inequality of wealth and power in any society — community, state or nation. Large areas that are uniformly wealthy or poor are peaceful and law-abiding. It is only where tremendous wealth and power, and tremendous (relative) poverty and powerlessness exist in close proximity, that law and order is the number one issue in the minds of the people. In today’s global village, with news of such inequality ubiquitous, it is not surprising to see a surge in violence as the psychological distance between rich and poor shrinks just as the economic gap between them is rising to unprecedented levels.

So we cannot hope to do away with (the need for) government until we find some non-regulatory (using neither laws nor markets) to eliminate the vast inequities in our world and in our countries. In other words, neither politics nor economics offers us a solution to the inequality that underlies most of the problems that our world faces today. In fact, politics and economics actually contribute to these problems.

What is needed is a social solution — one that brings together people of all social and economic strata with some of the world’s greatest thinkers, artists, scientists, philosophers, technologists, historians, and others, to develop new collaborative actions that do not depend on our hopelessly flawed and broken political and economic systems, but depend instead on our collective wisdom, our shared knowledge and understanding of how to live, and how to create a better world, and which circumvent politics, economics and the law entirely. We have that collective wisdom. What we need are some bold new ways to gather it, galvanize it, and make it happen.

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3 Responses to Why We Hate Government

  1. Kevin Carson says:

    Thought-provoking post. I would say that the worst inequalities are caused by government, through government activities that protect privileged classes from market competition. If it weren’t for government intervention on behalf of large corporations, landlords, and usurers, there’d be a lot less inequality to remedy.

  2. Really good post, fair and balanced. Though I would say that if you looked up Proudhon on his concept of anarchist federalism, you would find that he sees government as being different from the state, and that it is the administration of relations between communities, which allows members to remove themselves if they so wish.The right wing libertarians like Heinlien tend to follow your example of having a temporary govt. and then dissolving it. That being said, thaks for the great post and I hope it generates lots of debate. I too think we can have a balance between the individual and the collective and between communities which govern themselves in order to avoid the exploitation of either the local Sherrif or the larger bueracratic state.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Kevin, Eugene: Thanks. It’s a precarious balancing act, isn’t it.

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