Notes on the Atrocities
Like a 100-watt radio station, broadcasting to the dozens...

Thursday, August 14, 2003  

What's the role of government? Stepping back from policy questions, is it possible to make some general observations about why we even have such an entity? In his book The Third Way, Anthony Giddens offers these as a working definition:

Government exists to:

Provide means for the representation of diverse interests;

Offer a forum for reconciling the competing claims of these interests;

Sustain an effective system of law;

Promote the active development of human capital through its core role in the education system;

Foster social peace through control of the means of violence and through the provision of policing;

Create and protect an open public sphere, in which unconstrained debate about policy issues can be carried on;

Provide a diversity of public goods, including forms of collective security and welfare;

Foster regional and transnational alliances and pursue global goals;

Regulate markets in the public interest and foster market competition where monopoly threatens;

Have a directly economic role, as a prime employer, in macro- and microeconomic intervention, plus the provision of infrastructure;

More controversially, have a civilizing aim--government reflects widely held norms and values, but can also help shape them, in the educational system and elsewhere.

These, of course, apply only to democratic governments. Furthermore, Giddens, a Briton, reflects some of his own cultural view here; I've rearranged these from their most universal to their most particular senses (and I may be wrong, too). I'd say the first five are not controversial. After that, there may be quibbles.

What I found interesting when I read the list (and this will surprise exactly no one) is that the stated purposes of policy rarely cohere with these larger purposes. And particularly, the White House's policies run directly counter to them in many cases. The way in which the White House governs, moreover, definitely runs against the purposes Giddens identifies.

I wonder if it would be handy to pull these out from time to time and see how well our government is doing fulfilling its purpose?

posted by Jeff | 1:47 PM |
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