Saturday, March 14, 2009

A Thought on Government...

... that I'm not sure is Libertarian or devoted to any other ideology.

But it interested me, because I was thinking about the limited number of types of things that government can do--any government.

It seems to me that, domestically, pretty much all government acts fall into one of three categories (in no particular order):

Taxation--and the enforcement thereof.

Regulation--and the enforcement thereof.

Services--and the provision thereof.

Regulation as I am using it here refers not just to regulation in the sense of, say, sanitary rules for restaurants or inspection standards for pissed-off cows, but to laws that in any sense regulate human behavior (laws against murder, embezzlement, etc.) You could arguably separate laws and regulations, but I think that functionally there is a lot to be said for considering them together.

Services, here, is also considered to include redistributive movement of wealth (i.e., wealth transferred to States or wealth transferred to individuals in the form of Food Stamps, etc.)

I'm curious to see if anybody can come up with a major category of government act that does not fall into one of these categories.


Miko said...

I'd suggest broadening the category of "taxation" to include non-financial items. (Call it "tribute," perhaps.) Consider a draft, for example. Service suggests something that the government is offering you (and which hypothetically you could turn down). Regulation suggests that the government is forcing you not to do something. Taxation seems more generally to get at the idea that the government is forcibly taking something away from you, and so seems the most logical place to put it.

Although, if we're going to accept the idea that service is a voluntary category, it would need to be split into two to handle distinctions between, say, things you can voluntarily apply for like food stamps and things that you can't turn down like bombing villages overseas. In fact, war seems to be a common denominator in many of the above, so it might be worthwhile to add it as a separate category: regulation being the use of force against people the government considers to be under its jurisdiction, and war the use of force against those that it does not so consider.

That said, it'd be quite a stretch to fit attrocities like the Holocaust into any of those categories.

Also, there's going to be some overlap: is government-mandated education a service being provided or a regulation being enforced?

Steve Newton said...

Several good points: one of the reasons I excluded everything not domestic for the initial question.

I think "services" would be reasonably divided into "voluntary" and "required" as you suggest without doing harm to the concept.

I tend to view regulation pretty broadly: both meat inspections and prison systems regulate people's behavior.

You're right about potential overlap.

What I'm playing with here is the idea of developing least-common denominators for all governments....