Saw a funny cartoon on the web today. Since it captures pretty well how I feel about most of the “Big Government” yelling from Libertarians, I decided to re-post here and say a few words on the subject.
For the record, most people who know me will realize that my politics are fairly radical. When it comes to most personal freedoms and individual rights, I am a “Libertarian”; I do not believe in laws that create massively over-legislated and over-punished crimes. The majority of mutually consenting sex acts between adult human beings and the majority of recreational chemical use falls into these categories, and I have no use for the laws against them nor for the cruel and draconian bureaucracies and police states that arise from the need to enforce this Kafka-esque nonsense.
That being said, I do not fully fit the label that normally goes on these views in a university setting. Academics might call me a “left-leaning socio-anarchist”, and in the wild they might just say “Hippie”. But in either case, I don’t quite fit the bill. Because there is one stereotype that I do not fit, and that is the castigation of government.
The reason that my views diverge from those of most left-leaning and right-leaning Anarchists (your hippies and Libertarians respectively) is because of my training in social science, particularly anthropology and archaeology. So here is my archaeologist’s take on “Big Government”, in a nutshell:
Get the hell over it.
All major civilizations, from the ancient Egyptians to the present, have had “big governments”. All major civilizations require their people to pay “taxes” in some form. Even before there were such things as coinage and currency, people had to pay corvée labor and resources into the system.
These taxes have always been collected by government officials: in ancient Egypt these officials were priests, who had both bureaucratic and spiritual roles, but other societies assigned the duty of tax collection to all sorts of other subsidary officials, secular and divine. The job has always gotten done, from the Stone Age to the present. And once the government has collected a large base of resources and labor, they have ALWAYS spent it on various things.
The argument isn’t whether or not the government is big, in other words. THE GOVERNMENT IS GOING TO BE BIG. Or at least, it’s going to be big right up until the time the Visigoths show up to lop the heads off your statues and use your law books for toilet paper.
For this reason, I think it is useless and pointless to tilt at the windmill of taxation. The issue isn’t whether we’re going to be taxed–we are, and we always have been. The issue is who has to contribute to the public exchequer–in a just society, the answer is “everyone”–and how the government spends our money.
I’ve already accepted that I will be taxed. What I’m willing to argue is what the taxes are for. This is where our civilization can really make huge strides over those who came before us. By investing in public health, funding education and research, and keeping up a high standard of living for the general population–including the poor and the sick–we can unleash a flood of human potential unlike anything that the world has ever seen.
I think our governments should certainly spend some of our money on making our civilization into one worth remembering. We deserve great works of art, of architecture, of philosophy, of literature. We deserve monuments, cities, wonders of human ingenuity. We should push the limits of human achievement and open new frontiers. We’re the largest and most complex civilization in the history of the world.
Go Big or Go Home!