Voltaire said “The art of government is to make two-thirds of a nation pay all it possibly can pay for the benefit of the other third.” Looking at this quote by itself, it is hard to know whether it was intended to be instructive or was just cynical as the smiley had not yet been invented. In any case, there were clearly people that believed this. They were, of course, among the benefiting one-third. Had Voltaire lived just a few more years he would have been lucky to have escaped La Guillotine.
Today, we accept that government must serve both the elite and the hoi polloi. We also know that governments tends to grow beyond reason and then present us with the bills. It has also been observed that, at times, government bureaucrats can be very intrusive.
When all of this becomes too much for the electorate, calls for government reduction and even elimination go from beyond being merely loud to being irrational. What is forgotten is the most important function that government has which can be done by no other.
In our unenlightened world, it is often said to “look out for number one.” In the short run, this may work out well enough for number one but number two and number three often suffers in the process. This is what laws and regulations are intended to moderate. There are simply too many people who could care less about their fellow neighbors and citizens.
This is well illustrated by the recent Wall Street’s debacle. Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” was supposed to be in control. As we all found out, what happened was that a few got all of the gold and the rest of us lost out big time. So much for self regulation.
The same occurs at the local level when large chain businesses focus on their own bottom line at the expense of the local physical and economic environment. It occurs when a homeowner blares his music throughout the neighborhood or turns his property into a virtual junkyard.
Whether it be Wall Street or Main Street, without recourse to government, there simply is no means of moderating competing interests. At this stage, in utter frustration, many will take matter into their own hands. What looms ominously is a very uncivil and even violent society.