What is the purpose of government? it’s a question the occurs and recurs as election debates go on, as political discussions pop up, as I undertake the serious job of being a well-informed citizen. And truthfully, I don’t really think many people have truly thought their way through this. It’s a thought that I am going to return to as I come up with more ideas, but here is the first one.
The job of the government is to protect its citizens from direct harm by the actions of others, whether it be by other citizens or other countries. What does this mean? Well, right off the top, it means that we truly do need people like the police and the armed forces.
Note: I haven’t gotten into accidental harm (firefighters and other emergency services), education (schools!), or health care. Or how we pay for these things. This is just the first thought, and I’m going to stop with that one thought. But when I think of a group of people living together, the very first thought that occurs to me as a need is the need for protection, first internally and then externally. Why? Because these are two things that a person cannot truly provide for herself. Things like providing for basic needs, for education, for health care, are in a sense things that one provides for one’s self. Kind of. Mostly. In an ideal situation. But protection against a group cannot be provided for by the one person. That needs a group response. So, I think that protection is the very first duty of government.
After that, it gets a lot fuzzier.
And of course, there comes the question of how. Which is a completely different topic. But at least I’ve settled that first duty in my own mind. It helps me understand what I should focus on first when I listen to the politicians argue.