söndag 12 augusti 2007

What are governments actually for?

And now for a bit of fundamentalism. Most discussion of politics seems not to start from an agreed set of assumptions. This is apparent from those blog discussions run by newspapers. So try this.

The functions of the state are

(1) To defend the realm
(2) To administer justice
(3) To deal with emergencies
(4) To make land available to the people so that they can support themselves and their families.
(5) To collect the rent of land.

These are minimum requirements. (1) is normally accepted but states go well beyond this to become aggressive; (2) is perverted so that courts are engaged in applying laws which may or may not be just; (3) European states are quite good at dealing with emergencies, but few others are; (4) the whole concept of giving everyone the opportunity to support themselves is not properly understood and (5) governments everywhere fail to collect most of the rent of land and have to rely for their revenue on charges on labour and capital.

Cradle-to-grave socialism does not fit into this scheme of things and ought to be unnecessary but a handful of countries have nevertheless been making a reasonable job of things for many years. As a general rule, countries with small populations seem to be best at the task, especially those with a low population density. But it is not the way to go.

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