Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Government; a framework for discussing its role

Given that this blog is dedicated to the theme of politics, there will be a lot of discussion pertaining to what the government or the state should or should not do.  I believe it is paramount to establish a framework for assessing what is the basic purpose for the existence of government.  Broadly, what is the role of government in society?  What are its basic responsibilities?

As far as I have been able to distill it down myself, the core responsibilities of government are:
1) to protect its people from those who would harm them
2) to provide setting which promotes the the thriving of its people
3) to complete its responsibilities as efficiently as possible
I cannot think of anything I expect or desire from government that does not fall within one of these three categories.  Therefor, until or unless I am convinced otherwise, this is the measuring stick I will use to assess policies or laws.

This is not a US-centered claim. I believe that all forms of government throughout the world attempt to fulfill these responsibilities, and though some choose to aspire to effectiveness over efficiency.  The main difference between government types or political affiliations is the vision of the sources of harm, and the vision of thriving.

I said I distilled it down, and it is in fact rather a dense statement is in fact rather dense to say that a government's responsibilities consist of protection from harm, enabling living well, and efficiency.  I shall unpack it a bit for clarity.

Protection from harm includes military protection from foreigners who would attack from without, and it includes police protection from criminals who would attack from within.  It also includes civil protection from those who would take advantage of the vulnerable, ignorant, or gullible.  It does not, on the other hand, include protection from choices an individual makes for him or herself (provided that individual was not duped or incapable of making the decision).  Questions of justice largely fall into this category

Enabling living well includes policies that promote job growth and health.  It includes the important consideration that the afore-mentioned policies should also be sustainable over the long term for the country, promoting consistant positive movement, not volatile cycles of boom and bust, or good times today at the expense of the next generation. It does not mean that everyone is entitled to monetary success, but it does mean that the government provides a setting which promotes that opportunity for its people, and makes it more difficult for them to fail desperately.  A lot of regulation falls into this category, as does government investment in things like infrastructure and research.

Efficiency is important because it is a critical part of government not becoming a source of harm itself by being a burden.  It is also important in selecting policy options for achieving the first two parts of its responsibilities.  Most importantly, though, it ties the lofty goals of the first two back to reality and the practical impacts of implementation.  A law or policy must function in practice, not just in theory. If a policy doesn't work, it is in my eyes automatically disqualified from consideration.  I believe that I will refer back to this requirement quite often.  Platonic ideals might be interesting to contemplate, but they do not really provide much positive input to the improvement of real-world functioning.  The perfect can often be the enemy of the good. I am interested, therefor, not in examining the ideal, but in examining and discussing the evidence that can lead to the betterment of policies.  Let's call it evidence-based politics.


I've been contemplating starting a political blog for a while now, and today was the day I finally resolved to do it.
Why name it Wikipedian Protester? I am inspired by a wonderful XKCD cartoon depicting a protester at a political speech holding a sign that reads "[citation needed]". I think that this character depicts much of my attitude toward politics: a desire for political platforms to be rooted in facts, not just emotional ideology; a broad-based skepticism and inclination to inquiry; a focus on substance of policy rather than personality quirks. I'm the kind of person who selects their candidates by the planks in their platform rather than their attack ads.
I have a degree in philosophy, and I enjoy examining and discussing multiple sides of an issue. One of the things that a philosophy background teaches you is that many questions have very good arguments on all sides, and that extensive discussion may lead you to less certainty in the end than when you began. On the other hand, it also teaches you that an entire argument may be built on a small element, without which it tumbles like a house of cards. I was led to study philosophy through political discussions I had while living abroad, where I found that basic positions that I had thought were universal were not in fact positions held by much of the rest of the world, but rather, they were assumptions originating from my American background. This led me to realize that *everything* is up for discussion, even the things I haven't thought to question yet.
That being said, what I hope this blog will become is a place for me to record, organize, and discuss political issues. The idea of recording my political thoughts and discussions comes from the fact that I frequently find myself wanting to refer back to a point discussed or an article referenced in a previous discussion. Organization is related to effectively cataloging those points and articles and collecting them in a single repository that is easy to locate, but it is also related to having a place to organize and sort through my own thoughts on a matter before responding to others. Often, there are many things to be considered, and I sometimes struggle to distill my thoughts to what is most appropriate and pertinent to mention in a particular situation. Discussion with commenters is at this juncture mostly a hope, and may at first be limited to some dialectic with the objections that occur to me that could be raised by an opposing viewpoint. I hope that the ultimate result will be a forum where people can discuss issues in a civil manner with respect toward one another and open ears and eyes on all sides of any given issue.