Who Needs Government Anyhow? Except…

Since many of us paid our taxes this week, it seems only appropriate to highlight an article about how our tax dollars are spent. So, in that spirit, I am posting an article entitled “Who Needs Government Anyway? Except…” This opinion piece was written by Kevin Horrigan and was published in the Denver Post on April 15th. You can find the article here.

This article, while certainly tongue-in-cheek, highlights some of the critical functions performed by government on which we all rely. It is easy to get caught up in the partisan rhetoric over the size of government and cutting costs or controlling spending by shrinking government; but maybe it would be more productive for all of us to actively engage in a meaningful dialogue about how our tax dollars are spent.

I remember when Colorado was looking for ways to cut the state budget a few years ago, and they closed some of the Department of Motor Vehicle Offices. I was amazed to see how, all of a sudden, people from all walks of life were impacted personally by budget cuts. People were talking about this in every locale. But it was difficult for people to see the connection between the amount of taxes they pay and the long lines at the DMV.

I also heard a story recently about a town where people in the community had a choice whether or not to pay into the fire protection services in their town. But when the house of a community member who had not paid into the service caught on fire, the community was horrified that the fire department did not run to the rescue to put out the blaze.

There is so much double-speak when it comes to talking about taxes and the size of government. Sometimes it feels like people want plenty of government services – including public transportation, high quality public schools, rapid street repairs, snow plowing, protection from crime and fire – the list could go on and on. But people are not willing to pay more for these services.

Some questions for discussion: What is behind the fear and hatred of government we hear on the nightly news? Do you think it would help if people had a better understanding of how their tax dollars are spent and the specific benefits they, personally, receive from government? Would you be willing to pay more taxes to have more benefits, such as guaranteed health care or quality child care? Or do believe that government is fundamentally mismanaged? Would you rather spend your own money to provide for yourself, and deny any community-provided benefits? Do you feel that the government is choosing to spend your tax dollars in ways that you disagree with? How would you allocate the dollars differently if you were a policymaker? Have you been engaged in these debates in the past? Are there any particular resources you have found helpful to educate yourself on these issues?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. And thanks for reading!

11 Comments

Filed under Policy, Privatization, Role of Government

11 responses to “Who Needs Government Anyhow? Except…

  1. Karl

    Here are three reasons I have heard proposed for why some people fear the federal government. One is that when the railroads had been built and homesteading was legal, the federal government (being in the pocket of railroads) urged people to move out to the west promising fertile fields and lush crops, even though the area wasn’t suited to eastern crops and farming methods (the Ogallala aquifer hadn’t been discovered.) The result was the Dust Bowl and widespread starvation. Supposedly that is recent enough for children to have picked up attitudes from their parents, who lived through it.

    The second proposed reason is the federal civil rights legislation that was forced on resisting Southerners in the 60’s, sometimes at gunpoint. The legislation was overdue of course, but the reaction and events of the time could have been handled better, I think. I wonder if a truth and reconciliation commission, like they created in South Africa after apartheid, could have helped heal some of the wounds.

    The third reason is of course the Vietnam War. Again, there are many wounds that were never healed, or even acknowledged, and not just among soldiers. It makes me wonder if the Iraq invasion will create similar wounds.

    The issue for me how do you deal with a government that actually is corrupt, but only partly. Our governments perform many functions well, for low cost. And for many functions, there basically is no alternative to government. And further, government is as natural to human beings (it turns out) as families are. In many ways, the government is us. But in other ways, the government is self-seeking wealthy people and corporations, or incompetent and self-seeking public officials. I find myself simultaneously urging people to trust their government, and trying to point out and fix the corruption there. But I think the answer is not to cut it off and reject it entirely, but to engage with it and try to improve it (by enacting, for example, tougher campaign finance reforms.)

  2. What a thoughtful response, Karl! Thanks so much for commenting. And I definitely think you are right and that we could add other examples. As I was reading your comment, campaign financing came to mind for me as well. And, the concept of taking more ownership and encouraging more civic engagement also comes to mind. As you say, we are our government and our government is us, or at least that is the concept of democracy, right? But I do think about the crazy ballot initiative process we have in Colorado and can’t help being grateful that we have a representative government. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments!

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  4. Still reading a few old posts. I like this one. There are several key roles governments play, as unfettered capitalism would be problematic. History shows that the “haves” will tend to take advantage of the “have nots.” That is the reason for regulation – to protect people and our resources. The other reason is to strategically invest in new or massive businesses or efforts. The US history is filled with public/ private partnerships where government blended its money with venture capital. For people to say the government does not create jobs is erroneous and against history. To this same end, government plays a role to educate us for the key reason of creating innovation and managing our investments. The last major reason is to protect us whether it is the local police or the military. I am not a fan of the libertarian model, as we would truly have a “Potterville” rather than a “Bedford Falls.” I vote with Jimmy Stewart on this one.

    • Great comment! I think many of the Ron Paul enthusiasts really do not understand the radical ideas he is advocating for. There seems to be such an unfortunate fear of government, but I think it mostly comes from a lack of understanding. Thanks for going back to some of my older posts! I had almost forgotten some of these! :-)

      • What you write about and question has substance. Most Op-Ed writers talk more about the “game” of politics, which I find less enjoyable. I can write Charles Krautheimer’s column for him just looking at the title, e.g. So, your old stuff is better than his new stuff.

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