Phil Freedman: Guest opinion
September 11, 2010
This is a year of discontent. There are extremists who are so anti-government they want to do away with it, although it’s hard to find a candidate who will run on the ticket: “Elect me and I’ll eliminate government.” That is a bit oxymoronic.
That isn’t to say that the history of humankind is not without radical movements which have toppled sitting governments. In fact most people have revolted against the tyranny of royalty, dictatorship or oligarchy. But in each case a new government was created to replace it. Anarchy was not an option. My ancestors, well, maybe not mine but someone’s, dressed as native Americans and dumped tea from a British ship into the waters of the Boston harbor. They were protesting being taxed by the British government without being represented in that government. As a consequence, the United States of America was created. This made it possible to be taxed with representation by our own government. Now a significant proportion of our populace are protesting that taxation.
To that end, conservatives say they want less government. Does that mean reducing the number of functions that government provides, or maintaining the existing functions at reduced levels?
Let us consider the first proposition: reducing the number of functions that government provides. Without specifying the level of government, i.e., federal, state, and local, what functions do our current governments perform?
There are the divisions dictated by the Constitution: executive, legislative and judicial. Then there are the specific major categories: defense, education, health, welfare, foreign relations, internal affairs, finance and homeland security. Which of these functions should we eliminate?
Not even the Tea Party is in favor of anarchy. It wants or needs a government to profess its programs, or lack thereof. So even these extremist do not propose the elimination of a president (as long as he, or Sarah Palin, is white, American and Protestant). It also concedes the need for a legislature (if it minimizes its authority) and a judiciary (as long as it bans abortion and gay marriage).
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I don’t like to pay taxes at any level. If you like to pay taxes, I’ll let you pay mine. The reason I’m required to pay them is that without them I would not receive the services that I may need. There have been times that some citizens have refused to pay their taxes because those taxes support services they don’t approve of; for example, the war in Vietnam. Since refusal to pay taxes is a crime, dissidents who did pay them specified that they not be used to support the military. Yeah, sure.
Yes, we can find candidates who would vote to terminate support for certain services like Medicare and Social Security, and to make abortion illegal under any condition – but there is no one who wants no government. So if we want to cut taxes and reduce our national debt, what do we trim or cut?
The answer to that depends on whom you ask. We used to divide our nation into the haves and have-nots. That division is too crude, especially in times of recession. Yes, have-nots are still have-nots, but there are more of them, since the economy has lowered the bar, or sent a lot more people to it. And, since job security is a problem for so many, we now have a large category of could-be-have-nots. We also have some refinements in the haves category. Beside the secure haves, there are the ultra-secure-haves, including those who sustain that ultra status with the bonuses supported by the bailout shouldered by the neo-have-nots.
I suspect that the conservatives, whether they profess Tea Party membership or not, who propose to minimize the role of government are the least in need of services from that government. The have-nots, and the could-be-have-nots, are more likely to vote to protect and even expand the role of government to provide some degree of security for them. But if those in the secure haves categories prevail, what will they cut?
Certainly not government programs which protect them from harm. Strong-armed forces and an effective homeland security will be supported. It would be rather expensive, even for the more-have haves, to hire a private army for themselves.
Then there are the roads which everyone use. Perhaps public funds should not be used to maintain them, since people use them to different degrees. We could put toll booths on all of them, but that would be too intrusive. We could support them with taxes from gasoline, but with the increase in electric cars, that would be a problem. Or we could electrically tag each car and register their usage and charge then accordingly.
We could get rid of public education. After all, not everyone has a child, and the upper haves who have children can send them to private school. But can we afford a nation where most of the population is uneducated? Even your trash collector has to read street signs.
Let’s face it. Eliminating most services supported by public taxes will do more harm than good. Our rate of taxation in the United States is one of the lowest in the world. If it ain’t broken, trying to fix it will just make life worse – at least for ME.