Are there any functions which can and must remain the preserve of elected governments?
I often hear talk of reducing the role of the state, and the benefits that doing so would bring to the individual. If we could exist successfully and peacefully without an organised government, it would be fair to assume that would dismiss our government indefinitely. The benefits of living in an anarchic state are numerous; just imagine living in a society where you didn’t have to pay taxes, where an individual’s freedom is absolute, where you don’t have to answer to anyone. It is an attractive prospect, but an often romanticised one. An anarchic state would also be lawless, cutthroat and would lead to an uncooperative society. As much as some people don’t like it, an organised government is the metaphorical glue that holds society together and drives our nations onward towards a better and more interdependent future. We rely on government for some essential functions that we cannot perform ourselves, and there are three that come immediately to mind.
The first function is defence. We need a government in control of the military in order to defend ourselves against threats, both foreign and domestic. Military coups are most common in African nations due to the weak nature of their governments, leading to their inability to rein in their armies. A delicate checks and balances system is created between the government, the military and the people, ensuring that one does not overpower the other. However, if there is a weak government controlling the military, history has shown us that the military would try to fill the political vacuum. Therefore, a strong government is essential for our protection. To what extent the military is used to ensure national interests depend entirely on the nature of the government in question. As a nation, we are less inclined to use our military to facilitate trade agreements; the key to the world market is on our hugely influential doorstep. However, it is still necessary for the state to fund a strong military just in case we need to intervene abroad. This is for two reasons; firstly, so we can keep nations who are less than friendly with us from encroaching on our interests abroad e.g. a valuable but militarily weak ally being bullied by a larger nation. The second reason as to why I would advocate a strong overseas military is so that we can protect those who can’t help themselves. Interventions such as the recent one in Libya are prime examples of why the world needs a strong force to protect people from persecution from tyrannical rulers. Whilst it is noble to protect the weak and vulnerable, it also holds some other benefits for us. Countries that are liberated are generally thankful and are far more willing to cooperate with their liberators, and this may open up more opportunities to us that were previously unavailable. We still need a strong domestically based military to protect us against foreign threats, but we also need to be able to deploy our power abroad should a situation call for it, and that means investing in aircraft carriers and British military bases abroad.
The second function is taxation. Taxation is not theft. Essential state services cost money that comes directly from our taxes and services such as law and order, healthcare, education and the military all cost money and this all puts pressure on the public purse. Fair taxation can only be efficiently carried out if there is a strong government in place to do it. There are only two other alternatives. The first would be for people to pool our resources collectively amongst themselves in order to build and run essential services. To me, that doesn’t seem like a viable alternative to government taxation and spending, in fact it seems ludicrous to expect people to cooperate to that level. The second option would be to leave these essential services in the hands of the private sector. Whilst there are many services that might benefit from being privately owned, there are some things that I feel should be left in the hands of the government. Essential services such as sanitation and healthcare would continue to operate efficiently in the hands of the private sector, and may even benefit from the competition. I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving things as fundamental to our society as education purely in the hands of the private sector. This is because whoever is funding the schools would have the final say over what children are being taught, and this could lead to very narrow educations. The government is essential in overseeing the balance between the public and the private sector in the ownership of these services. Redistributive taxation is the only fair option for an egalitarian society.
The third primary function that I would argue that a government is essential for is to represent our nation’s interests on the world stage through diplomacy. If governments are legitimised by the will of the people, then they are able to legitimately take the interests of the people and further them globally. Because of this representation, we are able to engage in diplomacy with nations around the world, creating a more interdependent globe which we all prosper from, whether it is through increased trade, the exchange of ideas or through the forging of alliances. This new interdependence has led to the formation and constant expansion of the European Union, which Britain, whether the people like it or not, is still a part of. By being a part of the EU, Britain is part of the largest economy in the world with a combined GDP of around £11 trillion and provides a free market for Britain to trade within. Being a member of the EU allows us to negotiate European policy, which could benefit us if we negotiate for our interests. This would not have been possible if we hadn’t of negotiated into the European Community in 1973. Furthermore, there is a reason that there hasn’t been another major European conflict since World War II, and that is because of improved international relations between European states.
There are many roles that the government performs that I don’t agree with, and there are many things that governments do that over steps their boundaries, but I believe that these three functions are fundamental to the survival and the continuation of a modern society. Distrust of power is a natural human instinct, but without the modern nation-state, we would lack our collective identity and our desire to work together to achieve a brighter future.