November 28, 2008
Stop and ThinkBy Larrey Anderson
Really. Stop and think. What does your government actually do for you? This article is a series of quick thought experiments to help answer that question.
First thought: Where are you physically situated? Unless someone has printed off this article and given it to you on paper, you are probably sitting in a room and reading the article on a computer screen.
Second thought: How many things can you find in this room that were created by the government? Let's look around the room.
We will start with the words you are reading. An individual (me) wrote them. The words I have written appear on the computer screen you are viewing. The transmission system that sent the words to your computer was not invented or created (nor is it maintained) by the government. (Al Gore's claim to be the inventor of the Internet notwithstanding.)
None of the components of either the monitor or the computer that allow you to read these words were invented or created by the government.
The screen probably sits on a desk. The plastic, wood, varnish, vinyl, and screws in the desk were all manufactured by privately owned businesses. Private citizens designed the desk. Non-governmental employees built the desk.
Unless you are reading outside from a laptop, you are still sitting in that room. The sheetrock on the walls of the room was produced by a private company. The walls were installed, finished, and painted by individual hired laborers.
Glance at the door to the room. Same story. The door and its hardware were all privately invented, manufactured, and mounted.
In short, nothing tangible in the room is a "gift" from the government. Not one thing. (This is true even if you happen to work for the government and are situated in a government owned building. All of the work on the building was subcontracted. All of the items in the building were privately produced.)
Third thought: Are there things you can locate in the room that are a "gifts" from the government? Sure there are. Lots of them.
Let's run through the things in the room again. We will start with my written words.
Unless my words incite or threaten some form of violence they are, for the moment, free from government regulation.
When we move to the transmission system that gets my words to your screen the "gifts" from the government start to appear. The behind the scenes tussle for broadband access has greased the hands of lots of politicians. And, rest assured, in the future it will grease a lot more. The government taxes, monitors, and regulates the transmission (not, at this point in time, the content) of the information you are now reading.
How about that monitor you are looking at -- and the computer? There are literally thousands of government regulations on each of them. The rules state, as examples, how much energy the products can use, what chemicals can (or cannot) be used in the manufacturing process, and how to throw the computer in the trash (if you are using VISTA).
The desk and chair where you sit? The government regulates those as well.
Not the walls. Surely the government has nothing to do with the regulation of the walls? It does. And the door. And the door handle.
The government does not make any of the things you see around you ... but it regulates every one of them.
Fourth thought: Is this regulation necessary? Arguments can be made for the government's requirements for each of the items in the room. Some of the arguments might even be good ones. Some governmental requirements might make these items safer to use. Every requirement makes them more expensive to buy and to maintain.
Fifth thought: Exactly what does the government give us? It is important to understand, as you look around the room, that the government has nothing to do with the provision of the goods and services of the things that you see. Government has everything to do with the regulation of those goods and services.
Sixth thought: The next time an elected representative of your government tells you that he is going to make your life better, or fix the economy, or make America great again, ask yourself one question: How?
Larrey Anderson is a writer, a philosopher, and submissions editor for American Thinker. His latest award-winning novel is The Order of the Beloved.