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The Purpose of Government

Written By: - Date published: 9:40 pm, June 21st, 2014 - 7 comments
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Bryan Gould writes on this in the latest post on the AUT Briefing Papers website. He joins recent posters Ranginui Walker and Natalie Jackson. Gould quotes Elizabeth Warren’s classic “Nobody got rich on their own. Nobody.” Gould’s conclusion – A renewed debate about the purpose of government is well overdue – amen to that.

It’s worth keeping an eye on the site – there is more good stuff to come.

7 comments on “The Purpose of Government”

  1. A much greater classic is Karl Marx’s Capital which explains how the capitalists think that they create the wealth, living off the backs of the workers, after deducting the expense of the whips.
    We can expect great things from the site of class struggle.

  2. Colonial Viper 2

    Time to limit the role of central government to activities requiring nation wide co-ordination and to decentralise budgets and authorities out to increasingly democratic and accountable regions.

    Also it is time to democratise the economy and ownership of productive assets, and to democratise work places.

  3. Tom Jackson 3

    There’s little to disagree with in Gould’s paper, but he hasn’t done a good job of explaining why markets fail, and so it won’t read well to a sceptic.

  4. Bill 4

    I’ve got a soft spot for Bryan Gould seeing as he probably actually was/is, as claimed, the best leader of the British Labour Party that the Labour Party never had.

    But the problem with considering the ‘purpose of government’ is that it ignores the far more important question over the ‘nature of government’.

    I mean, how much of an unquestioned assumption on the desirability of centralised governing structures is the following?

    there are many contributions to society that can only be made through social organisation and collective effort, of which government is the prime example.

    So, Gould would have us believe, and simply not question the assertion, that elected representatives and bureaucracies are a prime example of ‘social organisation’!?

    Then there are further unchallenged assumptions such as

    The market is hugely beneficial in its ability to allocate scarce resources efficiently and to stimulate innovation

    So, the mis-allocation of resources due to market mechanisms doesn’t exist? (eg – plenty of food and plenty of starving people co-existing – and often in the same geographical location.)

    So yeah, you want a debate focused on tinkering with existing social democratic structures of governance that allows for the market to be treated as somehow natural, immutable and unquestionable? It might be an interesting intellectual exercise, but beyond that, what’s the point?

    • Tom Jackson 4.1

      So, Gould would have us believe, and simply not question the assertion, that elected representatives and bureaucracies are a prime example of ‘social organisation’!?

      It’s not an unreasonable belief. The proven prospects for any large scale modern human society that does not include some central organisation with a monopoly on force are in practice nil. Even Robert Nozick ended up admitting that. Who’s going to be the ultimate enforcer of the rules?

      Perhaps in some future post scarcity economy we wouldn’t need one, but they seem to be here to stay for the time being.

      So, the mis-allocation of resources due to market mechanisms doesn’t exist? (eg – plenty of food and plenty of starving people co-existing – and often in the same geographical location.)

      That’s what he’s talking about. Government correction of market failures.

  5. The Chairman 5

    I don’t believe questioning the purpose of Government ignores the question of the nature of Government.

    Historically, Government have generally been a prime example of ‘social organisation’ and ‘collective effort’, positively (socially and fiscally) benefiting society.

    Think housing, power, roading, health, education and welfare.

    Nevertheless, point taken. The nature of Government (being mean and oppressive or a state utopia) is as important – as is its competence and effectiveness.

    Government are meant to be there to serve the people to the best of their ability.

    Government has the benefit of scale (a collective force) thus getting more bang for its buck utilizing that scale to its advantage.

    For example, one can do little with a dollar, but collectively, when consolidated into the tax take, ones opportunities vastly increase.

    We require Government willing to create and capitalize off those opportunities. As a small nation, more so than most.

    As a so-called party of the left, this is where Labour largely falls short, thus need to reconsider their position by openly having this debate.

    Do they genuinely want to be a hands on Government, growing our wealth, creating jobs and stimulating the wider economy?

    Or do they solely want to rely on (and in some cases resort to funding and subsidizing) the private sector to ill our woes?

  6. dimebag russell 6

    marx was a johnny come lately when it came down to constitutional history and the industrial revolution. they are not one and the same and necessarily capitalism is not the antithesis of communism. conflating all these concepts into one thing is arrant stupidity and obscures the nature of each. much better to read Kurt Vonneguts “Player Piano” for a commentary on human nature than to propose man made laws for what are transitory existential events. There is no science of politics nor history for that matter. As Mao tse Tung said;”Power comes from the barrel of a gun!”

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