When I first heard Mitt Romney’s comment that almost half of Americans are “dependent upon government” I shook my head and thought, he ought to adjust that number north. Something around 100 percent
Government is necessary, and government can be, and usually is, good. I am product of a public high school, thank you government. I attended a private college with the help of federally subsidized loans, thank you government. I attended a public university for graduate school, thank you government. I am a frequent user of the library, the Milwaukee County Transit System, parks, roads, the airport; heck the City of Milwaukee even helped me out with an H1N1 vaccine a couple years back. Thank you government.
Last week I was up in northern Wisconsin fly-fishing. I was out in the wild far from civilization. But you know what, I was in the Nicolet National Forest and the only trout I managed to land was on a part of Tamarack Creek running through a Vilas County park. Thank you government.
I could easily make a similar list of complaints about government, but my point is that broad attacks on government wrongfully dismiss its many positive functions. The existence of a social safety net that can provide the most basic help to those in need, for example, is a triumph of our society, not a sign that we have lost our way.
More practically, reflexive condemnation of government distracts from the very real need to improve the efficiency and performance of government. Fiscal conservatism means finding ways to ensure essential government services are both high quality and sustainable. It also means rooting out abuses so that the maximum positive impact can be obtained from limited resources, and yes, ensuring individual freedoms are not impinged upon.
As you likely guess given my position at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, I believe the use of free-market principals is the best way to create a quality, efficient, and properly limited government. What I do not favor is a return to a Hobbesian state. Government can improve the quality of life in communities. Let’s debate the proper role and best practices of government, not its existence.