Inappropriate Role of Government

By Scott Lilly | Sep 04, 2014

As we get more into social programs run by the government, the proper role of government becomes something of importance to consider.  And then once that’s decided, a very thoughtful and strategic limit of that role is appropriate.  Without those two components well-defined, government becomes uncontrolled and unmanageable.  With a growing $17 trillion debt, there is little doubt that government is uncontrolled and unmanaged.  Is it possible to retroactively walk-back some of the spending programs that led us to our current condition?

Let’s start with our military.  Hopefully nobody will take issue that national defense is a proper role of our government.  Granted that, the next challenge ought to be what limit ought to be made toward that objective?  Although it’s seemingly a binary condition (we are defensible or we are not defensible), the objective is to keep our country “safe”.  How safe?  Well, that’s the problem.  We will never be able to be 100% safe.  We can throw an infinite amount of resources as defense spending and never accomplish being 100% safe.  Depending on what statistics are used, one should find that the United States accounts for about a third of all the world’s military spending.  The next nation that spends as much is China – about a third of our entire budget.  One should be able to make a convincing argument that we spend too much on military spending.  And the sad part is that when we were attacked on 9/11, it wasn’t a lack of spending that was the problem.  Republicans and Democrats alike have a vested interest in coming to a reasonable conclusion that spending three times the amount of the second largest military budget has room to be cut.  It’s simply too much.

The same logic should be applied to any social program.  Take the Affordable Care Act for example.  The ACA has the objective to ensure every American has healthcare.  First off, I’m quite sure there is not a consensus that ensuring healthcare is an appropriate role of government.  But assuming it is, how do we limit what is spent on healthcare?  What does it mean to be “healthy”?  No amount of spending will prevent death.  No amount of spending will prevent sickness.  No amount of spending will ensure people don’t become overweight.  So how will this spending be limited?  Who is to define what “healthy” is?  Insurance costs and healthcare costs have already risen noticeably since the ACA went into effect.  You not only pay for that out of your own paycheck, you also pay increased taxes to pay for the government’s increased costs for government employees.  So there is no way to appropriately limit spending on health – that’s a personal choice and one the government ought not to make.

Take another example: retirement.  I’m young enough that I don’t know it any other way than to have government “social security”.  It’s commonly known that social security for many isn’t “enough”.  At one time people thought it was an appropriate goal of government to provide retirement benefits.  If we accept that as a smart decision, then the question again becomes: To what end?  If you ask anyone receiving social security, they will tell you it’s not enough.  Who gets to say what “enough” is and how do they come to that conclusion?  Without a firm way to define that limit, no amount of social security payments will be adequate.  If government got out of the retirement business, every person would decide for themselves how much is enough – and if they believe it’s not enough, they only have themselves to criticize.

Let’s talk a local issue.  We’re in a lull with the Occupancy Tax increase proposal.  At one point in time, the community decided that government ought to market the county for tourism.  If you take that as truth, then there was a defined limit of 2%, then 3%, and now 4%.  I have no firsthand information how those levels were derived; but the last proposal was to increase that to 6%.  I’ve heard varying opinions but let’s say based on past performance of the Haywood County Tourism Development Authority the public still believes this is an appropriate role of government.  The question then again is to what end?  I’ve followed this conversation over the past year closely and nobody has ever been able to define that!  Without any defined limit of this role of government, the taxing and spending has only one way to go: up.  (I have recently seen evidence that there is work being done to propose a strategy and plan to answer the question “to what end”.  That proposal is what we might be asked to consider if the taxing/spending plan is beyond the 4% rate today.)

If you are a Republican, you should look toward the Constitution as what limits government and protects you from government.  If you are a Democrat, you should favor a voting majority to use government to get things you want from government.  (Who gets those things from its subjects.)  Those two distinctions are proper frameworks for how to consider the “proper role of government”.  But once that’s decided, Republicans and Democrats alike ought to put responsible and reasonable limits on whatever role there is.  Otherwise, we will watch our debt grow until bad things happen.  (But that’s a whole ‘nother topic.)

I watched the debate last night between Senator Hagan and Speaker Tillis.  I was disgusted by the nastiness and disrespect each gave the other and I shut off the TV thinking we are not being served by our public servants – we are being duped.  There is a role for Republicans and there is a role for Democrats in our society.  Rather than tell how evil the other is, how about constructively informing the public why we need each role and how that would be better for our country.  I hope our local candidate debate series starting tonight at WCU (and on WLOS) will be more constructive than the Tillis/Hagan debate.  I hope all civil-minded people watch with interest.

Comments (2)
Posted by: Scott Lilly | Sep 04, 2014 14:09

"Education" was a big thing on the Hagan/Tillis debate.  Our NC Constitution says we are to provide schools and a basic education.  But again, to what end?  No amount of spending will ever make 100% of our students "smart".  Who gets to decide what "enough" is and how do they form that opinion?  Since that's not defined, all we get is insults as to who loves teachers less and who hurts children more.  Haywood County had a very good concept: a formula.  That's a defined limit of education spending by local government.  Maybe some of that wisdom will catch on upstream in politics.

Posted by: Charles Zimmerman | Sep 05, 2014 07:50

               The first thing is to recognize where the debt came from.

                Considering the mess bushishito left, the Obamanater has done quite well.

                 We will be paying for bushe's nonsense for many years to come.



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