What is the role of government?

One of the more under-discussed issues in American politics is that of the role of government in addressing our favorite issues.  We might agree that education is good or that suburban sprawl is bad or that astroturf is evil, but how do we understand the role of government in regulating or addressing issues of education, sprawl, or astroturf?  This is a fundamental issue, one with which I wrestle considerably, but which I don't think gets enough air-time in our sound-bite political process.  Just becaue the power exists in government to do something, does it mean that government should necessarily do it?

Related to this point, I also wrestle with what Christians should seek from government.  If the Bible and the Christian tradition speak to people of faith, can we rightfully expect or demand of our (secular) government (of a religiously diverse nation) that it enact certain laws or policies "because the Bible says so"?  For exampe, the Bible expresses a deep concern for the plight of the poor, and calls people of faith to care for the needy.  Should Christians, then, implicate the government in responding to that faith-based call to serve neighbor?  Surely there are non-religious public policy reasons to serve the poor, and perhaps Christians should employ those arguments when calling on the government to act for the poor.  Again, just because the power exists in government to do something, does it mean that government should necessarily do it, and does it mean that Christians should seek to use the power of government to enact their priorities? 

I surely believe government has an important role to play in society – duh.  And I think that Christians should be engaged with government.  But I think we need to clearly articulate what we understand the role of government to be.  And I'm not there yet . . .

Perhaps I need a political science class to help me sort this out.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

4 thoughts on “What is the role of government?

  1. I believe that one of the primary roles of government should be to use tax dollars wisely, responsibly, and in a way that benefits US citizens.
    In a society where citizens are taxed, and where elected officials are “entrusted” to allocate that tax money, people should expect to see that money in action in responsible ways.
    That is why I am so disheartened about the state of affairs in our contry lately. Our Government officials can spend 10 billion per month to occupy Iraq, but cannot provide affordable universal health care for our citizens. Our Government officials can hand over 700 billion to Wall Street firms, but cannot provide working families with high quality, affordable child care. Looking at some foreign countries provides even more questions for tax discussion: in France they pay very high taxes. BUT IN RETURN they have FREE colleges, FREE or almost Free high quality child care, and -yes-FREE health care. The people see tangible results from those tax dollars. By the way, I found out this morning that people who make more than $102,000 per year in salary, do not pay any social security tax. Only those folks making $102,000 or less, pay the 6 to 7% social security tax. Why?
    I am just hoping that a new administration will attempt to somehow remedy, some of the heartbreaking problems we now face in our nation.

  2. Too, to clarify things, we also need discussions of which discussions should occur at *which levels* of government.
    Yes, education is a major issue–but who should fund, drive, and direct it–the Feds or the States? (And ditto with other major decisions. Clearly astroturf is a federal issue…)

  3. @Diane B – FICA is paid by everyone. Google for “fica maximum” and click on the money-zine.com link. In short, there is a maximum Social Security contribution that an individual may make. I guess it is the same principle as limiting one’s 401k contribution. Anyway, the contribution rate is 7.65% and the maximum you can contribute is $6,324 in 2008. You would have to make $102,000 to contribute that much.
    As for health care, I would much prefer to have market forces drive medicine than gov’t. Why is it legal to limit the number of medical students and schools? That’s choking the supply (google for “bma doctors vote limit”). Walmart should be able to provide health care.
    One of the downsides of France’s gov’t providing so much free stuff is the unbelievable burden they place on businesses. When AOL laid off employees there, they had to continue to pay them for months/years. The newly laid off were so happy they made an internet video. This kind of environment causes France’s best and brightest to flea the country (google for “go west young frenchman”).

  4. As a simplistic answer, Chris, you could try this:
    “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, 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, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”
    I think the Constitution’s preamble pretty much sums up the role of government. The details of that role, though, are obviously where you are getting hung up. If you end up in a political science class that manages to answer your questions, let me know. I think everyone in the U.S. should take that class.

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