An Honest Conversation About the Role of Government

We need to get through this crisis, and we will.  Once we do, we need to have a real conversation about the proper role of government.  What do we as individuals take responsibility for, and what responsibilities do we place on society, on government?  It’s not an easy question – where does individual responsibility end, and government responsibility begin?  Where do the rights of the individual end, and the rights of the group begin? 

We don’t think about it, but we give up rights and freedoms to the group in lots of little ways every day.  We do so because giving up some freedoms allows us to realize other freedoms – to have move control over our lives.  We give up our right to drive on the left hand side of the road, because doing so helps us get to our destination faster.  That’s pretty much the story of civil society – we all agree to live by a set of rules, because the rules actually give us greater freedom to pursue our lives.  Government is a tool to extend individual freedom. 

If there is one thing that Bernie Sanders got right, it’s that we have stopped having a real, honest conversation on the role of government, the responsibilities we need government to assume to ensure the wellbeing of our population.  But I don’t think Bernie quite understands that his movement is one of the reasons that we aren’t having that honest conversation. The left has created this cartoon version of what government can do, and a cartoon version of how evil the right is.  And of course the right has created its own cartoon version of the left, and a cartoon version of what unregulated markets, and individuals, can do.  There is a middle path between extreme government and no government.  Something we call Democratic Capitalism – we stick with the free market, but use the power of democracy to ensure everyone has a chance to participate in our economy, everyone benefits, and everyone plays by the same set of rules.  We have slipped away from Democratic Capitalism.  We have slipped away from our commitment to using the power of government to extend equality of opportunity. 

After the crisis of 2008, we did not have the conversation we needed to have.  We didn’t fix our financial system.  We didn’t fix Democratic Capitalism.  We need to make sure that doesn’t happen again.  Our system is broken.  American Capitalism is broken.  Once we’ve caught our breath, we need to make sure to have a real conversation about the role of government in our interconnected democratic society. 

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