What Is the Purpose of a Government?
Tl;dr: a government legislates and executes the respect of the law and acts as a safety net against extreme poverty. The relationship between people’s freedom and the government’s responsibility is a zero-sum game. The more a government intervenes, the fewer freedom people have.
How have governments started?
To answer that question, we need to dive into history.
Originally, there were no governments.
We were living in tribes like apes, following the orders of the alpha.
No money, no unemployment, no global warming, no laws, no Instagram. Good times.
Governments appeared as society complexioned over the years.
Rome is a good example.
Originally, Rome was founded by a bunch of villages assembled under the leadership of the Etruscan. As society complexioned, they created rules to better organize life within the city.
Since all social structures need a decision-making organ, Rome had a king.
That king would give birth to another king (technically, his wife would) that would himself give birth to another king, etc until the inhabitants got sick and tired of the kings abusing power. They chased them away to establish a republic where decisions were made not by one person, but by several in a club called the Senate. The Roma Republic was born.
That was in 509 before Christ.
Today, current Western types of governance are greatly inspired by the Roman senate and Athens’ democracy. Originally, governments were made of a bunch of people that took decisions together based on consensus to better organize society.
If in Rome, you’d keep on having accidents because the farmer that came from the left with his donkey didn’t want to stop at the crossover and neither did you, you guys would go see the Senate and say “shall we make rules to know who should go first on the road?” and the Senate would answer “sure, let the person on your right go first”.
That was the role of the government and no one would have had the idea to go and protest screaming “we want priority to donkeys coming from the left” because there were simply no points.
As society got more complicated, governments took on more and more responsibilities. It legislated on more and more topics, which decreased citizens’ freedom in these domains. As rules and structures were established, people abandoned the habit of thinking for themselves to follow the rules. As governments’ responsibilities grew, that of the people decreased.
This principle is illustrated by Germany, in the 19th century. Bismarck, then Chancellor, one day created a system where healthcare was financed by regular payments from citizens, a bit like insurance would work.
It was the very first system of its kind and the invention of modern social security. The only difference was that Bismarck’s invention was a private company. If it failed, the state would not intervene.
Bismarck, which was unarguably one of the smartest statesmen of his time, inspired Lord Beveridge. The latter established the same system in the UK, with the exception that the state would replace the insurer and the taxes, the regular payments.
The state gained importance in people’s lives and became the welfare state, some sort of safety net.
As society developed, this tendency went further. Populations relied increasingly on the state.
From curing people, it became responsible to educate kids, find people a job, and taking care of them when they’d be old.
Today, the most developed welfare states are in Northern Europe.
Any problem in society is handled by the state, from education to baby care, from sick care to about-to-die care.
And you know what? This is much better than before.
The weakest are being taken care of, everyone is given a chance to succeed in society, and if you got cancer, no need to sell your house to receive treatment.
But this came at a cost.
The Cost of Carefreeness
As the government took on more and more responsibilities originally assured by people, people became increasingly dependent on the government.
Could parents teach kids if the government wasn’t providing school?
Could you heal yourself if the government wasn’t providing hospitals?
Would you create a company if the government wasn’t providing a job?
Could you defend yourself if the government wasn’t hiring policemen?
By relieving us from tasks and responsibilities, we became simultaneously more comfortable, less responsible for ourselves, more dependent on government support and services, and overall, lazier, and weaker.
Why would we bother doing something the government is already taking care of?
As such, when the government decreases its support, people suffer.
They go on strike and protest.
However, protesting against your caretaker because they don’t take good care of you is not a long-term solution.
Ultimately, the caretaker calls the shots. The caretaker holds your balls in their hands. If they squeeze, all you can do is scream.
Having the government taking care of you is comfy. The price though, is being at their mercy.
The Only Possible Solution
The long-term solution to avoid that is to remove your balls from the government’s hands – achieving independence.
I genuinely believe that the establishment of the Welfare state came from a desire of the government to raise the standards of living of the population.
And it worked.
The world is enjoying a quality of life unseen in world history.
However, this has also made us greedy, lazy, and dependent on the government.
We became easy prey to play with and succumb to populist speeches promising us more government support, while we need is less of it.
The Bottom Line
Born out of the need to organize society, the government became its caretaker.
Political ideologies have since the dawn of time opposed themselves on whether society needs more governance over private life or less.
Chances are that there are no right or wrong answers, as it ultimately comes down to people’s capacity to build and take care of their own lives.
I find politicians’ speech about giving people “more money” appalling.
It shouldn’t be the government’s job to take care of people: people should do that themselves.
The government should be there to ensure at least that laws are respected and peace is established.
Too much governance can render societies inefficient.
However, places where violence, inequality, and anarchy rule need a strong model of governance, sometimes even a decrease of civil liberties at the beginning to restore peace and order in place of havoc and chaos (eg: Rwanda).
The role of governments should therefore be as small as possible to boost private responsibilities, capabilities, initiatives, and production while being big enough to safeguard peace, security, justice, and economic development.
Ultimately, it all comes down to how we behave in our society.
As such, politicians shouldn’t say “I’ll give you stuff if you vote for me, even if you do nothing”.
They should say “you have the freedom to do something, and you’ll be protected if people abuse you.”
People don’t realize that a government mandate is a consequence of their own behavior.
Should citizens choose to become more productive, more value would be created which would translate to more taxes for the government. There would be more money to redistribute.
Many people oppose their governments. This is the wrong way to look at it. The government and its people have a symbiotic relationship. The mere fact that they may be working against each other is idiotic.
In the end, the relationship between the responsibility of the government and people’s freedom is a zero-sum game: the more responsibility that the government takes on, the fewer freedom people will have.
That’s what communism was based on: the state will take all of your responsibilities and you won’t have to take care of anything…at the cost of all your freedom.
As such, the “freest” places on earth are places where the government has very little agency in people’s lives.
I’m not one that believes that taking people’s responsibilities away from them is positive.
I believe that the government should be in charge of a minimum of tasks to ensure societal survival and that people should be in charge of a maximum of responsibilities, to ensure maximum freedom.
But that’s because it’s me.
Somebody with another political conception will have another opinion.
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