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Government doesn't take away your freedoms; corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and corporations do

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Arguments against libertarianism

Regressives (aka "conservatives") say that guns don't kill, people do. So, despite the many deaths caused by easy access to guns, most regressives continue to oppose gun control, even for rapid-fire weapons. And they're willing to pay for guns, because they think guns serve a valuable purpose.

On the other hand, regressives generally dislike government. They blame it for corruption and waste. They complain that government takes away their freedoms. They don't like paying taxes. They want to shrink government and drown it in the bathtub.

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But if regressives really believe that guns don't kill, then by the same reasoning, they should really believe that government doesn't waste their money and take away their freedoms; people do. Specifically, corrupt politicians, bureaucrats, and corporations subvert government and use it to enrich themselves.

Government itself is just a tool, and it can be used either for good or for bad. Just like guns.

How government is like a gun

One of the primary roles of government -- some regressives would say the only legitimate role -- is law enforcement and defense. That role is similar to the role played by guns. So on that score, you'd think that right wingers would love government.

But regressives see only the bad that government does and overlook all the good that it does and can do. They want citizens to use guns to protect themselves from criminals but downplay government's role in fighting crime. They even imagine using guns to fight the evil government -- though I've always wondered how they expect to fight the US Army. Alas, oftentimes private citizens are better armed than the local police.

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Moreover, regressives are choosy about which law enforcement roles they want government to engage in. They're presumably OK with government defending us against murders and against property crimes. But they're generally not OK with government defending us against environmental crimes or against many white-collar crimes. For such cases, they'd say that government is infringing on their so-called "freedoms."

What's all this talk about freedom?

Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of press are legitimate freedoms. I believe too in the freedom to own property and to accumulate money -- provided that you pay your fair share in taxes and don't subvert the rules to concentrate power and money into your own hands.

But not all freedoms are legitimate. Nobody should have the freedom to steal, murder, or rape, or the freedom to foul the air, water, and land with poisons. Nobody should have the freedom to stash money overseas to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. Bankers should not have the freedom to gamble with depositors' money. Rich people should not have the freedom to corrupt Congress and rewrite the laws to favor themselves. Corporations should not have the freedom to profit from good investments but have the public pay for bad investments (the bailouts).

The freedom from taxation that so many regressives want is illegitimate given the $17 trillion dollars in debt that the US has accumulated -- largely from unfunded, disastrous wars and from the Bush tax cuts, but also from out of control medical spending due to exorbitant drug costs, perverse incentives, and high overheads of private insurance companies. (Social Security contributes not a penny to the national debt.) The freedom from taxation that regressives want is illegitimate also because of the increasing concentration of wealth and the historically low tax rates that corporations and the rich now enjoy.

How government isn't like a gun

Earlier we compared government to a gun. But the analogy between governments and guns goes only so far. Guns have mostly a negative role. That is, guns are used to kill and protect, and for sport, but not for much else. Government has a similar negative role as we saw -- national defense and law enforcement, including various regulatory functions. But government also has many positive roles to play -- if it's not corrupted by private interests or intentionally mismanaged and underfunded. Moreover, the regulatory and law enforcement roles of government are a lot subtler and more varied than the crude deterrent role that comes from packing heat.

What's government good for?

Let's remind ourselves of the various regulatory and positive functions of government.

Government runs the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the EPA, and the FDA, to protect our health and safety. The FAA regulates air travel. The NOAA forecasts weather. FEMA is tasked with coming to the rescue in case of natural disasters.

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Government regulates finance through the SEC, the FDIC, and the now expired Glass-Stegall Act; reckless deregulation was a major cause of the subprime loan disaster and ongoing financial chaos.

Government maintains national parks and supports conservation and smart transportation. It funds fundamental and applied research that benefits industry and humanity. It teaches our children and takes care of elderly, sick, and indigent citizens' medical needs.

In The Horrifying Hidden Story Behind Drug Company Profits and The Truth about the Drug Companies, a former Editor in Chief of the New England Journal of Medicine writes of the drug industry, "Instead of being an engine of innovation, it is a vast marketing machine. Instead of being a free market success story, it lives off government-funded research and monopoly rights."

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DFA organizer, Democratic Precinct Committee Officer, writer, and programmer. My op-ed pieces have appeared in the Seattle Times, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and elsewhere. See and for my writing, my (more...)

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