Is it true that the government that governs best, governs least?

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Wed, 2006-04-12 20:18

'The Government that Governs Best, Governs Least.' That's true, but it's not the whole truth -- which just shows you how reliable bumper-sticker philosophy can be. What's missing from that analysis is what gets too many libertarians confused.

What's missing is this: Size isn't always important (and just try selling that line after dark). In particular, size is not the primary consideration when judging governments. What is of primary importance is not that government is small, but that it protects individual rights. That, after all, is what government is for - to protect you from me, and me from you. Size is a consequence of that primary role, not the generator.

To protect me from you and you from me -- in other words, to protect our individual rights -- a government needs to be big enough to be able to do that job properly, and it needs to be properly constituted so they don't do you over themselves. There are too many example of small but vicious governments that don't do the job, and some rare examples of big governments that (sometimes) do -- and some very rare but truly exceptional examples of small governments that very often do, and hardly ever don't. In judging them all, small is better, but proper protection of individual rights is best.

As the T-shirt might well say, 'There's No Government Like No Government - Unless it's Very, Very Small, and it Properly Protects Individual Rights.'

TAGS: Libertarianism, Cue_Card_Libertarianism, Politics


Size is important

Kenny's picture

Size is important because once government has strong powers, especially in relation to taxation, it can infringe individual rights.

I read a script of Rand's Playboy interview on a website. It said that she called for VOLUNTARY taxation, i.e. no taxation and voluntary contributions. This is the relevant section.

"PLAYBOY: If force may be used only in retaliation against force, does the government have the right to use force to collect taxes, for example, or to draft soldiers?

RAND: In principle, I believe that taxation should be voluntary, like everything else. But how one would implement this is a very complex question. I can only suggest certain methods, but I would not attempt to insist on them as a definitive answer. A government lottery, for instance, used in many countries in Europe, is one good method of voluntary taxation. There are others. Taxes should be voluntary contributions for the proper governmental services which people do need and therefore would be and should be willing to pay for -- as they pay for insurance."

She was clear on the SIZE of government

"PLAYBOY: What about other public needs? Do you consider the post office, for example, a legitimate function of government?

RAND: Now let's get this straight. My position is fully consistent. Not only the post office, but streets, roads, and above all, schools, should all be privately owned and privately run. I advocate the separation of state and economics. The government should be concerned only with those issues which involve the use of force. This means: the police, the armed services, and the law courts to settle disputes among men. Nothing else. Everything else should be privately run and would be much better run."

That is explicit.

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