On the Other Hand...

Government: Who Needs It?

by Jim Davies

Happily, these days the freedom movement has plenty of good web sites and magazines that routinely expose the massive harm done by government programs; and there are so many tens of thousands of government activities that such writers will never run short of material. They usually point out that among that welter of programs there are a few useful functions that would be in demand in a free market, such as road building and maintenance; a demand that would bring its own supply on a competitive basis.

This offering looks at the matter from a different angle: is there anything that governments alone can do, that truly benefits people? Who needs it?

First and obviously, government employees need it. Without government, they would be out of a job! So of course they need it! Who would want to throw people out of work? - not I!

I don't know how to count how many there are, but we must reckon with all three levels; Federal, State and Local. Many millions of them, at least; from teachers who tell our children what to believe, to diplomats who tell foreigners what to do, to revenue agents who tell us all to hand over the annual $4.5T needed to fund it all, to sanitary workers who usefully dispose of trash. We can't just have millions of people thrown out of work, now can we? They need government, and we must have compassion for them.

Secondly come government contractors, from publishers of government school textbooks to builders of government roadmaking machines to fabricators of government weapons of mass destruction in the "Industrial" part of the "Military-Industrial Complex". You know, the creators of $200 hammers and Patriot missiles and smart bombs and aircraft carriers and Stealth fighters and 20,000 nuclear missiles; as well of course as the huge stockpiles of chem-bio weaponry.

Even harder to estimate how many jobs are at stake in that class, but I would guess it's several million more. Curiously, the latter part is known on Wall Street as the "Defense" industry, even though no foreign government has invaded the United States since 1812; perhaps a little euphemism soothes investor consciences.

If government were no more and we each had to defend our own property and persons, most of those many millions would be out of work. Makers of handguns, rifles, shotguns, mace squirters and perhaps RPGs would prosper, but overall there would surely be a large net loss of jobs; all those talented people would have to find work others wanted to pay for on the basis of voluntary contracts. Hey, that's tough! Have pity!

Thirdly, think of all those beautiful people in the news media! Absent government, what on Earth would they write about and broadcast? True, productive companies would be generating oceans of news every day, but most of it would be private and so off-limits to all reporters except financial investigators willing to work hard to find it. So others would be forced to focus on the weather and sport and such commercial news as leaked out, and maybe generate some more entertainment; but clearly, round the clock broadcasting by hundreds of TV stations would be a thing of the past. So, many of these people would also be cast out on to the job market. What would they do?

And fourthly comes another huge class of people who enjoy a prosperous living because government so regulates trade as to protect them from more efficient, lower-price competition; and again, it's almost impossible to estimate how many are involved. A third of a million lawyers spring first to mind; obviously a free society would need some, to help peacefully settle disputes between A and B, but since the number of lawyers needed is a function of the number of laws on the books, when the latter plunged to zero the former would fall off a cliff. And again, these are very talented people, so it seems such a shame to cause them to go out and sell those talents on the cruel, merciless free market.

As well as lawyers we can think of doctors, though their plight would be less severe. For the foreseeable future the human frame will likely suffer disease and accident, so their services will always be in demand - but they will no longer be able to command such a high price by having government forbid the hanging out of shingles by those not in the AMA club. So they do need government, to maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed; and again, they number hundreds of thousands and their ancillary staffs, millions more.

Also bankers should not be overlooked, for do they not bring an indispensible oil to the wheels of commerce and everyday life? Of course they do, and they employ perhaps another quarter million people and where would they all be absent government? Some, it's true, would remain, to operate such efficient on-line services as Paypal and its competitors to come, and to maintain ATMs in every other Main Street store; but the present arrangement by which banks borrow our money and then "create" ten times as much to lend us at interest would follow the dinosaur; and so would all those comfortable jobs behind the stone-pillar façades.

Lastly and curiously, Christians and other religious folk are content for government to exist. Their "need" for it is less acute and seems mainly to be that for as long as they preach in its favor, they are excused from its taxation. But there it is: a quarter million congregations, almost all of them willingly giving it their support; tens of millions of wellmeaning but badly misguided members - including but not limited to the classes above.

The total may not fall far short of the 50 million who actually turn out on Election Day to support the perpetuation of government. The list goes on and on, but you'll not want this article to do the same; so let's content ourselves with the examples above and conclude that for sure, there is a very large segment in our society that absolutely needs it to go on existing and who are we, to disturb their status quo? - do not even parasites have a right to life?

© Copyright Jim Davies 2004

Jim Davies lives in New Hampshire,
and enjoys contemplating which way is up.

The above is Edition # 326

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