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[personal profile] jamesq
[livejournal.com profile] garething asks, on FB, "What, in your view, is the job of government?"

I'm answering here because I think it would make a good post. And also because if I answer directly in Facebook, I'll need to type this out on my phone, but here I can use a proper typewriter, because reasons.

First, broadly, government is there to protect people's rights. This can include protection from enemies within (criminals) and without (invading armies). As I am fairly liberal, I also think it requires protection from actions that, while not criminal, are in everyone's best interests. Exploitation of the commons for example - environmental laws, and laws protecting individuals from corporations' predatory practices are two examples. This includes being mindful that government itself can be one of the biggest threats to people.

I differ from Libertarians, in that I acknowledge that there are threats to people other than government. I differ from Anarchists in that I think only government can protect people in the long term from a world of competing local warlords.

Beyond mere protection, I think it should also promote an increase in general happiness. "Happiness" here is a stand-in for lots of things. Generally, a population that is healthy, productive, and able to do their own thing with a minimum amount of stress and hassle. If people are starving, then government can improve happiness by making sure there is enough food. If people are oppressed, then government can increase their happiness by stopping oppression. If people are ignorant, educate them. If they're dying of preventable diseases, cure them.

Of course, the world has limited resources and death will come to us all, but in the meantime I think we have a duty to do what we can with what's available to us.

So, to summarize the what they should do, I think it's protect rights, then try to improve everyone's lot.

As for how, I'm all for a social democracy that keeps a firm hand on the forces that exploit people. So no religion in the public sphere. Criminals should be prosecuted. Corporations should have a firm hand controlling them (including corporate governing documents plainly stating what public good the corporation provides, and an expiration date). We should recognize oppressed people and work to remove that oppression.

And it should all be paid for by steeply progressive taxes. Given that we're rapidly moving towards an machine-automated society, we'll likely need a Universal Basic Income too, or some other tool that insures we don't have a permanent unemployed underclass (instead of a UBI, maybe a reduction in the hours worked per week). I think this is definitely doable for the simple reason that the world economy generates enough value for everyone now. That there are lots of desperate poor people out there is due to all that value going to tiny oligarchy.

Anyway, this is what I could come up with in ten minutes off the top of my head.
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