Is the problem government, or is it just us?

My old friend and "Anarchist of the Year" award winner, Country-Ass Wes, responded in thought provoking manner to my last post on New Orleans, and brought up an issue that is currently rubbing a raw nerve with me--the inefficacy of American government. Here's what he says in excerpt:

"The whole incident (Katrina) reaffirms my distrust, disgust, and disdain for government in all of its manifestations; my faith in the churches, private organizations, and good ole' citizens. A truly sad case of individuals (black or white) completely dependent on government, ultimately let down, and somehow people are surprised by the fact. Should anyone be surprised or appalled that liars and thieves (writ large) act as such?"

After seeing New Orleans, I have to admit that I sympathize with the sentiment. Individuals are doing a lot, government, in all its manifestations, is doing seemingly jack-squat. I also have to admit, though, that after living in New Zealand it is difficult for me to generalize the problem to government in general, and remove it from American government in specific. As Americans, we're indoctrinated from birth with the dogma that we live in the greatest nation on earth, so it is a jarring thing to visit another country and realize that many people actually have it better--and much better at that! That's what happened to me in New Zealand, and it significantly altered my view of government: prior to the trip, I had libertarian leanings, and general lack of faith in government in general, much like Wes. Now I'm a big government liberal of sorts.

In basic principle, in a democratic society government should be nothing but an organization of the people into a structure designed for universal benefit--it provides for needs which cannot be provided for at an individual level, and is accountable to its constituents if it makes their situation worse. In America, somehow that doesn't work--citizens feel separated from the government, politicians aren't held accountable to their constituencies, beaurocracy at a gov't level is an impenetrable wall holding back any positive benefits to the citizen, corporations make all the important political decisions, and basic human needs--food, shelter, healthcare, social stability--aren't being met in large scale in the most affluent nation in the world. The issue is though that there are places where it actually does work--or at least where it works significantly better than here. People in New Zealand, for instance, genuinely did seem to have a better quality of life with a bigger government. They had superior health care, better access to higher education, more time for recreation and vacation, better international relations, apparently less political corruption, a similarly healthy economy, fewer social ills, less racism, almost universal democratic participation through voting, and a feeling of ownership for the nation's political situation. They aren't perfect, but it was enough to make me feel that our particular government is the root of the problem--not government as a principle. America, as a political entity, is quite frankly not even close to the greatest nation in the world, even if it was at some point in history. It's a relative backwater, in fact, which has managed to turn democracy into a joke and corruption into an art form.

I truly hate what our government has done to our country in the last 50 years or so. Although we've never been perfect, we used to be a beacon of freedom and hope for the world, the best, healthiest, place in which to live. Now America is likely the most broadly hated country on the planet, and the least developed of the industrialized nations. While other countries grew away from racism, sexism, classism, and economic inequality after World War II, we wallered in it. I really do think that is largely government's fault, but not simply because it is government. We've been stupid and lazy, and have been bilked by both politicians and corporate leadership. We haven't held government accountable, and we've supported leaders who screw over the most vulnerable in our country and abroad. We've become a bully state with cancer--we're bringing ourselves down and taking the world with us.

That said, I still think reforming government has to be the answer--either that or moving to Canada. We still are actually a democracy, and we've got the ability to organize ourselves for mutual benefit. I don't know if it will happened, but it's happened in much of the rest of the world, so there has to be some hope for us.


Anonymous said…
I dont have much hope that anyone could or would reform the U.S. into anything decent or respectful. The social programs are broken. Foreign policy amounts to "who has the bigger gun".

For any democracy to work, liberty must be the highest goal. So, any "mutually beneficial" social programs must exist by unanimous vote of the people, and/or chosen on an individual basis as an optional service of the state (like private insurance). International policing would have to stop all together. I'm looking to move out after my family is gone...maybe sooner. Latin America or the Caribbean.