Anne Macquarie: Why government?
I was talking last week to a friend who is a successful businessman. During the conversation he said, “Government doesn’t produce anything. The only industries that produce anything are mining, manufacturing, and agriculture.”
I agreed, thinking about the tangible products, upon which we all depend, that are produced by these primary industries.
But then afterward I realized he was wrong. Sure, governments don’t grow wheat or manufacture washing machines. The consensus in developed capitalist nations is that those activities are best left to the efficiencies of the private sector.
But government produces the conditions that allow businesses to exist and to thrive.
A few examples:
National defense: How many businesses have the wherewithal to maintain a standing army to protect their interests?
Environmental protection: The system of environmental protection in this country – now under systematic attack by the far right – has evolved over a century or more as a direct response to the environmental degradation caused by unregulated industry. Canals and rivers so polluted by toxic wastes that they burst into flames or caused clusters of birth defects – this actually happened in this country only 40 years ago. Now we have the EPA and other federal agencies to make sure it doesn’t happen again. One of the products of government is a system of environmental regulation that allows us at least the chance of living in a clean and healthy environment.
Law and the courts: Anyone for some frontier justice? Not me, I prefer the rule of law. And you can bet that those who dispensed – and suffered from – frontier justice back in Nevada in the 19th century did it only in the lack of a more established order. And business law – copyright protection, for example. Ask any inventive entrepreneur how important this product of government is.
Infrastructure – roads, bridges, buildings – and standards for safe construction: We have only to look at Japan – or Chile during their earthquake last year – to recognize the value of this product of government. The devastation we’re seeing right now in Japan is horrifying, but try to imagine how much worse it could have been in both Japan and Chile if both countries had not had rigorous seismic standards for buildings. We would have seen not only coastal towns swept away but totally collapsed cities.
For those on the radical right who think that government is the problem – or even to my more moderate businessman friend – I have a modest proposal. If you don’t think that government produces anything, try and set up a business or raise a family in a failed state. Somalia or Haiti, anyone? Just make sure you bring along your private army.
• Anne Macquarie, a private sector urban planner, is a long-time resident of Carson City.