According to a story on NPR, this year eleven mayors of towns in Mexico have been murdered by drug gangs. The gangs seem to have felt, and probably with some justification, that the municipal governments were interfering, or likely to interfere, with their personal freedom — in this case, the freedom to earn large amounts of money transporting and selling drugs.

The drug gangs took direct, effective measures to protect their individual liberty from the burden of intrusive government regulation.

I trust my conservative friends will applaud them.

I myself take a slightly different view. In my view, one of the main reasons why we need a strong government is to protect us from the barbarians. When the government is unable to do this, the quality of our lives deteriorates.

Barbarians are far more varied in their pillaging now than in former days, but their activities have the same motivation (rampant greed) and the same result (widespread suffering). By any reasonable definition, BP looted and pillaged the entire Gulf of Mexico this summer. Granted, fewer people died in the Gulf oil spill than in the Viking assault on the British Isles a thousand years ago — but the damage to wildlife was more severe, and the economic damage was far-reaching. BP are barbarians. The movers and shakers on Wall Street are barbarians. The health insurance industry are barbarians. Monsanto are barbarians. And our government is powerless to protect us against them — as powerless as the Mexican government is to protect their citizens from the drug gangs.

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5 thoughts on “Less Government

  1. Well, I’m sure we can argue all day about proximate and ultimate causes, but the situation in Mexico seems to me a direct result of an overreaching US government and our ridiculous war on drugs.

    Outside of anarchists, most people agree that a major purpose of government is to protect people from barbarians. Hence its universally accepted roles as lawmaker and law enforcement provider. Where conservatives take issue is when laws are passed and enforced that are meant only to protect people from themselves.

    It’s difficult to talk about conservatives as a block, though, when there are two dominant strands of conservative politics: the small government folks with libertarian leanings, and the religious conservatives. I don’t think the latter care much about government size on its face; mostly they want the government to share their views and ideally enshrine them in discriminatory laws. The former would say that there is something very wrong when a government is so big and intrusive that its views on sexual practices become relevant to the lives of its constituents.

    You’ll get no argument from me about the megacorps, though I think you have it backwards. To BP, Wall Street et al, we are the barbarians, and they spend a lot of money keeping at bay. Their money determines who we elect, their lobbyists write our laws, and all the while they pull the teeth from the watchdogs meant to curb the worst of their excesses.

  2. You’re right that the deaths of the Mexican mayors are a direct result of U.S. drug policies. You’d think we would have learned from how Prohibition empowered the Mafia … but no.

    I’m not sure I agree with your characterization of quasi-libertarian conservatives as taking issue with “laws … that are meant only to protect people from themselves.” I seem to recall a refrain about shutting down the entire department of Health & Human Services, for instance. (This may have been during the Reagan years.) Social conservatives don’t want the government taking their money in taxes and using it to help poor people. They may not actively want poor people to suffer, but they lack compassion.

    I dislike government intrusion as much as anyone. The motorcycle helmet law? Pathetic — lawmakers who were afraid to tackle society’s real ills doing something to make themselves look effective.

    Power struggles are inevitable in any society, so maybe the question of who are the barbarians is a matter of perspective. But I doubt the Vikings who ransacked British villages thought of the Britons as barbarians. They probably thought of them as a resource — stuff that was there for the taking. I think the same applies to Wall Street, Monsanto, and BP. Ordinary people are a resource, whom they feel free to exploit as they see fit.

  3. On the religious side, the argument against the government taking money to help poor people is that this usurps a function that has historically been filled by the church, and therefore contributes to the diminished relevance of the church in modern America.

    This is different from the fiscal conservative notion that the government taking any money at all is bad because it disrupts the natural operation of the free market. I am more sympathetic with this argument in principle, though in practice I think that ship sailed to Fairyland many years ago and may never have weighed anchor here in the first place.

    I think the helmet laws are a good idea, not because they are not intrusive and paternalistic, but because they are a necessary consequence of laws requiring emergency rooms to treat patients without insurance coverage. If we as taxpayers and healthcare consumers are obligated to subsidize the consequences of their poor decisions, then society requires a way to discourage those decisions. Remove the subsidy and you can repeal the law.

    It is not so very different from regulations and restraints on the financial industry, except the bankers can buy better lobbyists and more favorable media coverage.

  4. Ben and Jim, seriously, you seem to have no conservative / libertarian friends as you are pretty far of the mark defining our preferences. As a Christian conservative jazz piano playing former long hair (getting a bit old for that now..), we have a few bottom line principles. 1) The rule of law, based on the constitution and 2) the recognition that big government and big corporations are run by the same thing.. people.
    To say that the Mexican drug lord problem is due to American’s is to then beg the question, “If U.S. demand and promotion of the profit motive is the reason drug cartels are overrunning Mexico, why haven’t are their counterparts taking over in the U.S?” To answer the question displays a hole in the original statement.
    Regarding the “lacks compassion” statement. Forcibly taking someone else’s money (taxes) to give to a faceless third party (the “poor”) in order to foster votes and dependency is NOT compassion! My family and a large percentage of my conservative Christian brethren give money, food, furniture, and physical labor in order to help many in the community who are missed by beloved big gov. We help people whom we are called to help without expectation of a payoff, because we feel compelled to do so by our hearts. Last question and point on this subject. Who has the greater potential to do harm, the greedy businessman who can’t force you to buy anything if you decide it’s not worth it or the power hungry government official who decides that you have to bend to their rules and pay for the privilege whether you want to or not because (it’s for your own good). He who has the power to give you everything has the power to take it all away. Conservatives want the government to protect us from physical harm, gross fraud and unequal justice. That’s pretty much it. Besides, do we artists want the freedom to create as our impulses drive us or government direction? Do we want the government to pick the successful musicians and if not, then why should they pick which businesses are successful.
    Mr. Aikin, I was disheartened to read of the demise of Keyboard in your blog. I was just going through my 88 – 2004 subscription. The internet, while good for many things, doesn’t necessarily provide us with the best dissemination of information.
    You were a good editor for Keyboard. Expand your horizons. Go make a few conservative friends.

    1. I have a few conservative friends. I’m thinking of one in particular. I seldom talk politics or political philosophy with him. Although he’s very intelligent, his understanding of such things stops at about the 8th grade level. He has never gotten past believing in the ideals of Ayn Rand. Once in a while I try to explain a few details about how the real world works, but he fails to engage. He has no effective replies, and he just doesn’t get it.

      This is how it generally goes, I’m afraid. To take one example from your post, you have somehow dragged the phrase “promotion of the profit motive” into the discussion. The profit motive is innate in human behavior — it doesn’t require promoting. And then, after asking what is evidently a non-rhetorical question, you fail to provide an answer. You say that the answer “displays a hole in the original statement,” but I can only conclude that you’re such a sloppy thinker that you don’t know how to answer a bizarre question that you yourself propounded.

      You’re the one calling the poor faceless — a position that seems odd indeed for a compassionate Christian to take. You then assert that charity to the poor is undertaken “in order to foster votes and dependency.” That’s your own whiny little belief system at work. There is no connection between that assertion and any reality that I’m aware of, and I defy you to provide a well-structured, objective study that proves anything of the sort.

      Who has the greater potential to do harm, the greedy businessman or the power-hungry government official? The businessman. No question about it. Here’s why: Because the businessman can use his millions to rip apart the fabric of representative government and produce the travesty we have at present, in which neither political party is willing to stand up to him.

      Conservatives want the government to protect us from fraud? That’s a laugh. Tell it to George Bush. He’s a conservative. He cranked up a farrago of lies in order to start a ruinous war that has run our economy into the ground. He sold the country down the river to his greedy friends on Wall Street and in the oil companies. He built up a secret police system that kidnaps people and locks them away for years without trial. Conservative commentators like George Beck and Sarah Palin lie routinely, secure in the knowledge that their followers are too fucking stupid to see through the lies.

      Conservatism is poison. It is destroying this country. Wake up and smell the coffee.

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