Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Size and Role of Governments

It should be clear by this point that the debate over health care reform is less a debate about health care reform than it is a debate about the role of government in America. I hope that it is not a surprise for me to reveal that most liberals do not affirmatively want a large government, nor do they enjoy paying higher taxes. What we want is social justice and we think that the government sometimes in the best position to offer it.

My understanding of the conservative counter-argument is that individuals are capable of regulating themselves and society through the free market without government intrusion. With less government intervention, that means more money in people's pockets and a higher standard of living for all.

I get the feeling that some conservatives believe that many, if not most, liberals actually enjoy the government taxing us, we want a huge government, and we'll use excuses like health care and poverty to give the government more power. The specific program doesn't really matter, what matters is that we find a way to give the government more power. To the extent that any conservatives believe this, it is a strawman argument. Government can be the means, but it is never the ends.

I'm not sure how you can believe that corporate America acts in our best interests and promotes justice, equality, and stability. Go ahead and click 'em all. And remember, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Corporations are not in the game to help the consumer and society generally, they are in the game to make a profit. The side effects of corporate greed can be good for society and individuals, but not always. In fact, they do not have a track record that suggests we should trust them any more than the government, probably just the opposite.

Now, its widely accepted that greed is the engine driving capitalism. That greed, putting self-interest above all, spurs men and women to build up successful companies, innovate, and progress. Mainstream liberals agree with this notion and protect this way of life. Liberal has never meant anti-capitalist.

Liberals tend to see and emphasize, however, the inefficiencies of the free market. We see that the market does not always act rationally. We see that transactions are not always between parties of equal power who possess equal knowledge. We want to level the playing field for all participants, and this often means bringing down the rich and powerful a notch in order to raise up the poor and disenfranchised a notch. It means lower highs but higher lows. Its a trade-off that conservatives have a hard time accepting.

And I'll be honest, at times I have a hard time accepting it as well. In a parallel universe I could actually be a small-government-type. I'm not oblivious to the fact that taxes are getting higher, the government is getting bloated, and a small minority of people are leeches feeding on public welfare. I can see how a person would see this and want to reign it all in.

The problem is that we live in a world where people are filled with hate, greed, and prejudice. They will keep getting richer at the expense of the poor. They will pay women and minorities less because of they think they deserve less, and treat them worse because they think they deserve worse. Insurance companies, to use the example du jour, will deny coverage to those that need it most, delay coverage to those that require big expenses, and generally mess up the entire industry to make a buck.

I just don't think we live in a world where, if we want social justice, we can leave it all to private industry. The free market does not always act rationally, so we should foster and encourage industry and innovation, but we should be ready to step in and use the government where necessary. Does this mean socialism? No, of course not. Does it mean uncontrolled government spending? No. I hope Pres. Obama fulfills all of his campaign promises of health care reform, climate change legislation, and cutting out wasteful and inefficient government spending. That is exactly the type of agenda a liberal should endorse.

And I'm not exactly sure when the Mormon fixation on capitalism became so strong. For much of our early history capitalism was barely evident. From the law of consecration and the United Order, to Brigham Young's strongly pro-Mormon cooperative (to the exclusion of non-Mormon industry), ZCMI, the Church has a fairly deep history of non-capitalist economic institutions. Only when the members failed to live the higher law of collectivism, and with the increased contact and intermingling with non-Mormons, did capitalism become the de facto way of life.

Perhaps it was inevitable with an increasingly small world, and again I'm not saying we should be anti-capitalist, but so many Mormons are so staunchly free market that it makes me think we have forgotten our history altogether. I believe early Mormons balanced the competing ideals of the Individual and the Collective much better than we do today, with our laser-like focus on the Individual alone. Maybe I'm wrong.


jamieschip said...

Amen. Amen. Great post, babe. I agree with every point you made.

Daniel H said...

I agree with you, too. It absolutely kills me when one guy in our ward rants about socialism, and yet he's the most stringent supporter of capitalism, as a day trader in the stock and monetary markets.

Greed, greed, greed. I think we as members of the church need to find the balance we used to have.

Javelin said...

On other posts, I have been having debates with some Mormons who think that taxes take away their agency. It's not easy to get them to see that taxes are not necessarily good or evil. It's the "how much" and "what for" that determines if taxes are good or bad for the individual and the community.

I always think of bigger government to mean how much money we spend, instead of what programs we have. President Reagan, Bush 41, and Bush 43 spent tons on our national defense. It was President Clinton who trimmed our national defense way down, and we balanced the budget in the process.

That to me is smaller government.

Jacob S. said...

I think you are exactly right. In fact, I wrote about that exact subject, agency, here:


There is much more to the issue, like you say, than just losing agency when you pay your taxes, which is a pretty simplistic view.

Josh said...

Yes, Javelin, the genius Clinton trashed our national defense. And we paid for it with American lives. The great Andrew pointed out (somehow in Obama's defense?) that there has not been an attack on US soil in quite some time. That has nothing to do with the "trimming of our defenses" nor with the current President's arse kissing missions in the ME, and Europe. I'd love to hear you explain how spending four times more in six months than Bush did in eight years is "smaller government."

Now, I'd like to call BS in a couple places:
1- "I hope that it is not a surprise for me to reveal that most liberals do not affirmatively want a large government, nor do they enjoy paying higher taxes."

You MIGHT get away with saying "many," and surely "some" would work, but "most" is BS, and it is plain ignorance to deny it. Also, recent voting records would tend to prove this theory wrong, especially the part about not wanting more taxes, wouldn't it?

2- "...and a small minority of people are leeches feeding on public welfare."

I haven't seen any current figures, but they have to be, at least, as high as 2007, when over 50% of households received government assistance. So, to say "small minority" is BS. As long as the government is willing to give the fish away, there will be MANY lazy, ignorant, ne'er-do-well's out there that won't learn to catch the fish themselves.

3- "They will pay women and minorities less because of they think they deserve less, and treat them worse because they think they deserve worse."

These lies still fly? Proof speaks, so where is the proof of these statements. It is BS. First of all, if we would ever grow up and stop using the idiotic word "minority" in speaking of ethnicities other than caucasian, it would go a LONG way in dispelling racial tensions. Secondly, if there are still industries out there that don't pay everyone equal salaries for equal experience and work, then they should be challenged legally, not randomly complained about on the internet. In my industry, though, it is MUCH easier for a woman to get better salaries, jobs, and treatment than for a man. The same goes for "minorities."

3- "And I'm not exactly sure when the Mormon fixation on capitalism became so strong."

Again, this is BS. I guess, though, that living in Utah does give you an outlook on the Mormon political/social belief system. I have given my feelings about Capitalism, and other economic systems, before. Nearly all Mormons that I have talked to have the same feelings that I do, and it isn't a love of Capitalism, just an understanding that it is better than any other existing system. My feeling is that I embrace the best thing I can, until we figure out how to live, as a world united, under the Law of Consecration.

Lastly, I have a point to agree with you on.

"Insurance companies, to use the example du jour, will deny coverage to those that need it most, delay coverage to those that require big expenses, and generally mess up the entire industry to make a buck."

I still contend that a government run insurance business is the wrong way to fix this problem, but something MUST be done!

Jacob S. said...

Do you honestly believe liberals like paying taxes? That is ridiculous. We like the benefits that come from it. Would you like paying $2000 for an awesome TV? Of course not, but you'd love the TV. Means, ends, different things.

I've given all the numbers on this blog before regarding welfare. While at any given time there are a certain amount of people on welfare, only a fraction are long-term users. The system generally works like its supposed to: it gives temporary relief to those that are going through hard times. Some people abuse it, and we need to do something about it.

For decades and decades women and, fine, "non-white ethnic groups," made less money than white men. You cannot deny this. It was because of prejudice. You cannot deny this. It was not until aggressive government intervention that these groups started earning anything near equal wages as white men. I think it is clear that wages are pretty close to equal, but it wasn't just because private industry was so rational that prejudice became taboo. It was because of government intervention.

Now, as for Mormons and capitalism, obviously we only have our own observations. My experience has been that free market principles are worshiped about as much as political morality among most Mormons. States in the so-called Mormon Belt are highly deregulated and extremely conservative in terms of the use of state and federal government. Perhaps you are right and it is more that conservative Mormons (which is most Mormons) think that capitalism works best (which I don't disagree with), than full and true devotion to free market principles. But I think the idea of self-sufficiency and individualism has taken such hold that we have lost that balance I talked about. I guess this is just a matter of opinion.

Anyway, if government can have the success in the insurance industry that it has had in cleaning up our air and water, in evening out wages for all workers, and in many other situations, I think it is a worth a try.

Andrew said...

'Nearly all Mormons that I have talked to have the same feelings that I do, and it isn't a love of Capitalism, just an understanding that it is better than any other existing system.'

And that is a self-selecting group. What about membership world-wide? And do they even have the same definition as you w.r.t. "capitalism"? That means different things to different people; I agree that capitalism is a good thing generally but I don't think it should be allowed to reign free unchecked. That position is too Objectivist, and hence atheistic, for me. Working for a start-up with dreams of selling out (a.k.a. my day job) is a fairly pure form of capitalism in many senses, but the only reason we have a chance is regulations keep larger companies from squashing us unfairly.

Javelin said...


President Clinton did not trash the national defense. He cut spending in areas that were not needed. Did he cut too much? I'm sure he did, but not one soldier lost his or life for it. What facts do you have to back that up?

It's interesting that our government spent less each and every year that President Clinton was in office, than any of the twenty years of President Reagan, Bush, and Bush. How do you explain that away?

You seem to be very subjective in your comments. Try to be objective.

grayfox said...

I discovered your blag when I was alarmed when a Mormon friend of mine from high school posted a link to this article as if it were some great editorial piece. I couldn't make heads nor tails of it as it seemed to be a ramble followed by a lengthy bullet point list. What struck me was on the first line it said "socialism with ObamaCare" and one of the list points was "death panels".

So it got me curious as to what some Canadian Mormons' opinions on their healthcare system would be so I googled "canadian mormons on health care" and found this blog.

Not really commenting on this specific article, just wanted to chime in and say nice site everyone.

Josh said...

Given the fact that you all just voted for a man that ran on a platform promising higher taxes, with no real show of the benefits of those taxes, yes, I think you do like to pay taxes.

As a general rule, I won't respond the ramblings of Sir Andrew. To Javelin, however, I will. Yes, I believe that Clinton laid waste to our national defenses, and I never said anything about American soldiers, just Americans. There is a reason that his administration spent so little...he didn't do a dang thing, in 8 years. He spent a huge amount of time getting the greatest piece of anti-second amendment legislation ever passed, made huge unnecessary cuts to the military, and slept around on his wife. Pretty easy to save money, when you don't do anything!

Javelin said...


You sound so angry. Not one person was killed because of cuts to the defense budget. You still haven't shown proof.

We had the best economy under President Clinton. We even balanced the budget. And you are still mad?

He was unfaithful to his wife, but what does that have to do with our country? It is a personal matter.

So it takes a few more days to buy your guns. Big deal. You still can buy your guns. Stop crying, and make some objective comments.

Josh said...

I could care less about the "waiting period" that doesn't exist. If you plan on insulting me, you might want to know what you are talking about a little bit more. The so-called "assault weapon" legislation is where your hero attacked the Second!

Also, it was not a personal matter for Billy only when a Brazilian woman, fresh out of the shower, and dressed in a towel, was screaming at my companion and I that our President was an unfaithful slimeball, and asking how such a man could be trusted to run our Government. No, his infidelity was not a personal matter, it was a matter of global embarrassment!

Clinton's weakening of our National defenses lead to embassy attacks, domestic terror attacks, and, dare I say it, yes, the 9-11 attacks!

Your hero, Javi, was weak. Quite possibly the weakest President in US history. He is still weak, and his continuing legacy is getting to be really pathetic!

peter said...

You speak as if increased government regulation of insurance and a public health insurance option are two sides of the same coin when in reality they are two completely different ideas. Increased regulation is merely government doing more of what they already do whereas a public health insurance option is government taking on a completely new responsibility. It is our duty as citizens to be hesitant in handing over such an expanded authority to the government. The more we give the government, the less is left for “we the people.” There are times when it is the government’s duty to provide (for defense, infrastructure, and so forth,) but I am not convinced that government should be the preferred provider of health care. The continued emphasis on the urgency of passing health care reform needs to allow for careful study of the proposed bills (in contrast to the frenzied passing of the stimulus.) Once we endow the government with expanded power, it is difficult to take that power back if the government proves to be either inefficient or unable to deliver.

As I outlined in response to your last post, there are many alternatives that don’t include a public option that could be implemented first before such an expansion of the role of government. I know that proponents of the public option deny that it will not impact the deficit, that everyone can keep their current plan if they wish, and that this is not a move toward a single-payer system, but allowing government to become a healthcare provider (outside of the welfare programs they currently run) is a slippery slope…we can’t really say where it is going to end. Nobody really knows all of the implications of a public option.

Do we need reforms to health care? Yes. Do we need to jump directly into a public option that could easily lead to a single-payer system and a much expanded role of government in our lives? No. Expansion of government power should be a last resort.

And…I don’t know that Mormons in general (in which I take you to mean Mormons in the United States) are “so staunchly free market” but rather anti-big government. They want freedom to choose instead of government involved and managing every aspect of their lives.