Saturday, January 01, 2005

I think much of the conservative arguments about the liberal/federalist view of government is comes from a misunderstanding or self-interest. There are a thousand variations on the specific roles government should or shouldn't play, yet there is a basic misstatement coming from the right.

In general, the conservative argument is that the government has a set list of responsibilities that, constitutionally, it must execute and anything outside of that must be left to the local governments which have their own specific natures which reflect the communities they serve.

On its face, it is a simple and elegant design, two attributes which often indicate a correct argument. Many on the pro-government side of the argument attack the rationale from the angle that it simply reflects a more simple time that was incapable of conceiving of the problems of modern life. I don't think that is the case, and to often undercuts the actual issue.

The language as it stands is more than capable of handling modern matters. We may think that technology and science have brought us hurtling beyond previous times, but the general ideas of good governance and democracy are as old as mankind.

It would be foolish to try and rehash the federalist vs. anti-federalist arguments here. They should be read by anyone with an interest in the discussion, however.

Where I see the conservative argument falling short is its focus on restricting the language of the constitution. They focus on the responsibility only. I doubt there could be a convincing argument made by anyone that a government should support social and expansionist policies to the detriment of its responsiblities.

The argument from the liberal side is that once the responsiblities are taken care of, why not use the power of the government to help individuals.

This is not an argumant about the specific policies, simply the general idea.

On economist Brad DeLong's website he has several posts, posted in a row (start with January 1, 2005, and scroll down), that illustrate the difficulties faced by individuals. Places where technically the government has no directive to intervene, but where it may have a greater ability to help than any other institution or group.

The idea isn't that government has the responsiblity, but we do. We de have a responsibility to help each other. That being so, we should use the strengths and abilities of the federal government to help out just that little bit.

Most people want to do well, and do it themselves. But, as my father reminds me, we can't do it alone. Some things are larger than we are and we need just that extra bit of help to get through. As a democratic republic dedicated to allowing each individual achieve the acme of their potiential we have a responsibility to provide that little extra bit of help that people need and if the government is the best method, than we should use it.

(A prime example is the role of government tax credits with providing affordable health care. The Brad DeLong reports on a National Bureau of Economic Research working paper comparing government provided public insurance vs. using tax policies to encourage employers to provide insurance. The finding that really stands out the most
I find that every tax policy is much less efficient than public insurance expansions: while public insurance costs the government only between $1.17 and $1.33 per dollar of insurance value provided, tax policies cost the government between $2.36 and $12.98 per dollar of insurance value provided.
No if that isn't the penultimate example of what government is capable of providing, I don't know what is. Recent reports on Social Security efficiencyo point out that government program doesn't have to be synonomous with inneficient. Certainly there are countless examples of why government run programs do not work, but there are also countless examples of failed private ventures as well. %50 percent of resturaunts fail in the first year, should we be turning to private companies to provide meals at government institutions such as schools and the military?)

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