Monday, December 25, 2006

The Secret of Our Success: Part 2

Part 2: Good Government

As a firm believer in the old adage “the government that governs least governs best” I think it only fair to examine from time to time the things that government does well. It has become so easy to condemn the impersonal government bureaucracy, as I have been known to do myself on occasion, without a thought to the hard working men a women that make up the “public sector”. While criticism is probably a good thing considering the impact government has on all aspects of our lives, we often fail to see the good that rises above the bad. As with anything in life we tend to complain the loudest when we feel we have been abused. Conversely, when things work well we often to take them for granted. Any parent will recognize this phenomenon. The good things government does become transparent while it’s transgressions are magnified by second and third-hand outrage.

Consider, for a minute, your morning routine: The water coming out of the shower is safe, clean and reliable because a government agency has made it so. The waste water scurries its way down the drain without a second thought from you and yet the government is there routing and cleaning it to make sure it is safe to be reintroduced into the environment. Your hot buttered toast and cold cereal are safe and nutritious because government and industry standards exist to protect your health and well being. The streets that extend from your house to your place of employment are well lit and swept clean of snow without you having to lift a finger. The traffic signals and road signs that guide commuters from here to there work flawlessly day after day.

In cities and towns across the nation we are assured that when we dial 911 someone will be there to answer the call. When we go to the store we know our money will be accepted because we have a standard currency issued and backed by the government. When we buy a widget we know it will fit properly because standards of weights and measures are set up and enforced by the government. When we have been damaged by the actions of another or if we are accused of wrong doing there is a justice system that succeeds in finding the truth far more often than not.

Taking in the bigger picture one cannot overestimate the role of the armed forces in keeping our citizens safe from the terror of a foreign power invading our shores. That may seem like a silly notion, but human history is littered with the bodies of ordinary people slaughtered in their own homes by hostile invaders. It is the projection of a powerful military controlled by a civilian government that has helped make us the most successful nation in history.

Even with the things we complain the about most, and often with good reason; taxes, public schools, public financing of dubious ventures, corporate and social welfare we fail to see the good side first. We all know people in our lives who work in the public sector. Most of them work very hard and do a great job day after day. These are not the bureaucrats we deplore. Those in the positions of power within any government agency are as ambitious and self-absorbed as any of their contemporaries in the private sector. The difference is that they often control and spend our money. When we feel our tax dollars are wasted we get angry, as well we should. However, when we lash out, myself included, as critics of everything that is government we are not making it better. On the other hand those who wish to put the finger of government into every aspect of our lives are only making it worse.

In an ideal world the government would be transparent. When last I looked this is not an ideal world. We should strive for the former, giving the benefit of the doubt to the citizen and not the government, but sometimes we have to accept that the government really does [ try to ] work for the greater good.


Timothy Birdnow said...

You make a great point, Craig; we like to complain, but many things our government does very well, and we take them for granted.

I am not all that well-traveled, but I was amazed the couple of times I have left the country by the lack of what we take for granted here. My brother has traveled around the world, and he says there is no better feeling than to return to the U.S. after his trips because he missed the little things. Those little things are a result of good government, plain and simple.