The following is the second part of the series on the proper and improper role of government. First, imperative to the discussion is a quick recap on the purpose of a government, and then we will discuss the actual role of government. Second, the following cannot be stressed enough, America was founded upon a Judeo-Christian understanding and philosophy. Other representative governments have removed the influence of religion globally, but America, thankfully, continues to keep it around. Third, nothing herein is to be misconstrued as supporting any single religion, including atheism and agnostics. My religious beliefs are not your business, just as your religious beliefs are not my business; we are not here to debate theology, philosophy, or anything but the government’s proper and improper role.
What is the purpose of government?
The second sentence of The Declaration of Independence is long but powerful:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
The purpose of government is to “secure these rights… deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The rights the government is to secure are “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When talking about securing, we are not inferring that those rights come from the government, are tools of government, or can be dispersed by the government. When discussing securing, we are talking about the government protecting against threats to, harm from, or the need to make safe from those who would do the collective body of citizens harm. The government securing rights does not mean affixing those rights to an individual, as the individual already owns these rights. The government’s purpose is to protect the body of citizens by making the body of citizens safe.
The etymology of secure is vital to understanding the purpose and proper role of government. “Mid 16th century (in a sense ‘feeling no apprehension’): from Latin Securus, from Ee- ‘without’ + Cura ‘care.’” Hence, without care for an individual, the government secures, protects, and defends the individual’s inalienable rights. Not deciding what is good for the masses, not selecting winners and losers based upon the whims and wishes of a bureaucrat, but considering the entire mass of citizens without preference and defending their inalienable rights is the purpose of government.
What is the proper role of government?
From many Judaic and Christian sources, one can find various systems of government in place throughout history. From despots of the most vile to the judges of Israel, which brought liberty and freedom instead of kings, one can find just about any form of government represented in historical texts of ancient date. More specifically, one can find the proper role of government, which is stated most simply in the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) of The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter-Day Saints, specifically Section 134:2.
“We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.”
Is the proper role of government clearer? For example, suppose the government is only focused upon securing the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of [private] property, and the protection of life. In that case, that government is fulfilling its proper role. Did you notice what is missing from the strict interpretation of the proper role of government? Social services, arbitration, buying support through forced taxation, and much more. Except, America was established as a Constitutional Republic with democratically elected representatives. Thus, does America’s government have a different interpretation of the proper role of government?
The founding fathers, and several of the first presidents in America, were considered statesmen. However, statesmen are not merely politicians, and politicians are never statesmen! A statesman is a person who is well versed in the principles or art of government, actively engaged in conducting the business of government or in shaping its policies. The statesmen are respected for their skill, diplomacy, power to communicate ideas, and being principled. Thus, the statesmen are morally upright and can be trusted to understand why they are morally principled and why the law should be morally centered. It cannot be stressed enough. The true statesmen values principles over popularity and works to create popularity for political principles in government operations that are morally sound and bring the most freedom to the most people.
Consider the following from Albert E. Bowen:
“Right and wrong as moral principles do not change. They are applicable and reliable determinants whether the situations with which we deal are simple or complex. There is always a right and wrong to every question which requires a solution.”
Now, returning to the proper role of government, any form of government instituted by man, we find the following as guidance in measuring said governmental role. From D&C 134;1-2, 5:
“1 We believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.
2 We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.
5 We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.”
From the US Constitution’s Preamble, a person will find why the government was instituted. “… in order to form a more perfect Union (government), establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” Between the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration of Independence, the US Constitution, and the offered verses, we find similar language discussing the purpose and role of government.
Thus, the proper role of government remains simple and easy to understand. The proper role of government is to secure man’s inalienable rights, protect private property, and ensure each citizen may pursue their path of happiness. A citizen’s path of happiness cannot infringe upon another citizen’s pursuit of happiness, steal their property, damage their property, or destroy public property. Hence, the government must balance the inalienable rights of a person to commit crimes against the acceptable restriction to hold people accountable to socially acceptable laws while never infringing upon an individual’s conscience. Therein lay the seeds of the improper role of government.
What is the improper role of government?
The improper role of government begins with refusing to accept that government power is limited to only those powers the citizens grant the government. Thankfully, there is a simple test for understanding what powers the government has or does not have. The test: Can you order your neighbor to pay for welfare for another person? If not, the government does not have this right or power. Can your neighbor call you to pay subsidies to them for keeping their lawn and home maintained? If not, the government does not have the right to spend taxpayer money to subsidize another person’s housing. This simple test relates the power of government, the government’s improper role, and reasonable government restrictions.
The line between the proper and improper role of government is thin but very distinguishable using the simple test described above. Claude-Frédéric Bastiat was a French economist, writer, and prominent member of the French Liberal School. A member of the French National Assembly, Bastiat developed the economic concept of opportunity cost and introduced the parable of the broken window. We present Bastiat as providing the logic behind the simple test. “Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in.” Hence, the simple test regarding a neighbor forcing you or forcing your neighbor is justified as the test for the proper or improper role of government.
Forced taxation is a form of legal plunder, and since payment is the test for which powers are proper or improper for government, we must return to Bastiat for a delineation of legal plunder.
“When a portion of wealth is transferred from the person who owns it – without his consent and without [just] compensation, whether by force or by fraud – to anyone who does not own it, then I say that property was violated; that an act of plunder is committed. … How is legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.”
Legal plunder is theft through the misuse of the power of government. Consider the following example, your paycheck. On that paycheck, the Federal and State governments demand money from you, not earned but forced through jurisprudence and legislative fiat, and those funds are given to another person. As a private citizen, if I took your wallet and removed money from it, I would be guilty of theft and liable to the penalties of criminal and civil law, even if I did not keep your cash but donated it to a charitable organization. Remember, the simple test that details the difference between the proper and improper role of government.
One additional piece of knowledge where the improper role of government is described and dictates that government cannot create wealth. No government, at any time throughout history, has produced wealth. The government takes from the citizens to survive, and the proper role of government would see every cent of forced taxation as a precious resource, needing to be accounted to the citizens forced to pay. People create wealth, and if you desire a full explanation of how money is created, please see the following link.
Why does it matter?
The government cannot exist without the consent of the governed. Your inalienable rights should be the only concern of any government form, type, or methodology. Yet, what do we find; legal plunder to buy other citizens’ support. We find legalized plunder without transparency, without accountability, and without regard for those struggling to pay the forced taxation (legalized plunder). We find Trillions in missing money in every government, where the representatives are not concerned, or even aware, of the money lost. We see government spending above and beyond its intake, creating debt penalties for many future generations to pay for the benefits of the current generation, all because the government refuses to live on a budget. We find bureaucrats treating citizens as property and abusing that property worse than any corporate polluter of the 1970s.
Look carefully, dear citizen; government only exists by the will of the governed. Do you think it is time for a change in government? Do you feel your government is fulfilling its purpose and proper role or is your government abusing its rights and powers as granted through the consent of the governed? You must answer these questions and then decide where you stand.
© 2021 M. Dave Salisbury
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