In Praise of Government

Jeff Alworth

The front page of yesterday's Oregonian featured a fascinating poll detailing a number of revenue-generating or -slashing measures the legislature could use to fill the $3 billion budget hole confronting the state. (Sadly, the poll is a missed opportunity. Each item should be rated on its own to generate a 0%-100% score. It would also be most instructive to see what the effect would be on the budget once you'd ticked off your favorite choices; readers might have been edified to see a response that said "your choices would leave the state $1.9 billion in the red," say.) It is one of a larger narrative that has developed over the past couple years. Since the arrival of the Great Recession and concomitant rise of Tea Party anti-governmenters, we've been treated to a discussion about how to tame the excesses of the vast, sprawling, unnecessary (go ahead, pick your favorite derisive adjective) government.

Seems like this is a great time to mention that now, perhaps more than ever, we need to recall just what exactly our government does for us and why--far from being a malignant tumor--it is the beating heart of the country.

Think about the typical day in the life of a typical Oregonian. She wakes up and goes into the kitchen, running clean water into a coffee pot and turning on the reliably-electrified Mr. Coffee. She rouses the kids and sends them off with her husband to be dropped off at the public school. She leaves the house a little later, waiting before she pulls out for a WalMart truck to pass her along the well-maintained public road on its way to a delivery. On the way to work, she passes an accident and sees police cars, an ambulance, and a firetruck attending to the scene. Perhaps she wonders which car is at fault, thinking that the roads are safe because we have enforceable, uncorrupted laws. She arrives at work, her small business along the MAX Tracks in North Portland--the one she opened with her SBA loan. And so on. Laws, public safety, infrastructure, education, defense, and a social safety net--all of these things combine to create a stable society that allows for that pursuit of happiness we so cherish.

We can all debate about priorities--and we'll have to as we try to fill that budget hole. But it's beyond silly to think that the culprit is government itself. Our experiences trying to rebuild societies Iraq and Afghanistan should remind of this wisdom. Societies require government, and lots of it, to protect our untroubled lives. If we cut too deep, we will begin to see the costs of letting this precious mechanism crumble. Government's good, it's a relative bargain, and we need to remember those facts whenever we consider measures that will bolster or slash it.

Comments

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    Think about the typical day in the life of a typical Oregonian. ... And so on. Laws, public safety, infrastructure, education, defense, and a social safety net--all of these things combine to create a stable society that allows for that pursuit of happiness we so cherish.

    And you didn't even include the toilet. Government makes sure that when you flush, your human waste goes away -- never to be seen again.

    Ponder, for just a few seconds, what life would be like without that critical government service.

    650,000 Portlanders. 2-3 times a day. etc.

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    Such a WONDERFUL piece Jeff. Worth reminding of.

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    Avery--thanks for the kind words.

    Kari--thanks for a gross image. :-)

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    Jeff

    I agree with everything you wrote. Yet, there are times I wish government would just shut up and get out of the way. Case in point: Potholesfor Poverty

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    Government is a lot of things. It is Ted Ferrioli and Bill Sizemore as much as it is Ted Wheeler and Bill Bradbury. There aren't many unqualified statements I'd make about just "government".

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