The Purpose of Modern Government

P.J. O\'Rourke A lone humorist attempts to explain the US governmentJerry Pournelle posits that,

The purpose of modern government is to take money from the folks who save and pay their bills and live within their means, and use that to hire government workers; and to keep their power by using the money to buy votes from those who do not save and pay their bills and live within their means. And of course the money comes from those who work and save and pay their bills and live within their means — who else will have any money for the government to take?

I’m reminded of the chapter in P.J. O’Rourke’s classic, Parlimament of Whores, called, “Our Government: What the F— Do They Do All Day and Why Does It Cost So G–D— Much Money?”

At any rate, Pournelle would like to know whether he’s being “unduly cynical.”

via Glenn Reynolds

FILED UNDER: General, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Hal says:

    Yea, I guess all the private investors in Mac and Mae are really down on a tax payer funded bailout right about now, seeing as how they’re all capitalists and small government types.

    Yea, that’s the ticket.

  2. sam says:

    Well, couldn’t one say that one of the purposes of modern government is to take money from the wealthy in order to bail out the wealthy when the economic feces hits the fan? I’m thinking of the various bailouts we’ve seen in the last 30 years. Or am I being unduly cynical?

  3. Hal says:

    Well, part of the purpose of government is simply to provide the bodies for the military (hey, that’s why we have social programs), the money to equip and create the military, and the vast support network necessary to project that military to take care of the interests of…. well, I guess since the top 1 or 2 % make the vast bulk of the income and have almost all the wealth, it would be the rich people’s interests.

    Seeing as how the government isn’t apparently for anything else, according to our wizened sages on the right, this seems like it’s a logical conclusion given the facts.

  4. M1EK says:

    Don’t forget that one thing that government did was build the very internet that allows that cranky old coot to complain about it. No, private industry didn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t have done it.

  5. Hal says:

    Yea, I keep bringing that up with libertarians railing about government spending but they just kind of brush that aside without much explanation.

    Also, since it was the DOD who did all the work, it’s really just a military tool, anyway – something that is kind of underscored, I guess, by the recent consolidation of all spying (now with zero warrants!) via the converged communication through the internet.

    Kind of a beautiful symmetry, I suppose.

  6. Francis says:

    The standard line I hear lobbyists use in California is that the State government does three things:

    It Educates, Medicates and Incarcerates.

    everything else is pennies on the dollar.

  7. Hal says:

    Hmm. that would be *state* government, which – by all accounts – the federalist types which compose much of the right are all for.

    The federal government has far different spending priorities – the largest of which is the military.

  8. Michael says:

    The purpose of government is to provide for the common welfare of the people, the problem is that too many people are taking welfare from “providing assistance to those in need” to “providing livelihood for those who want”.

    Don’t forget that one thing that government did was build the very internet that allows that cranky old coot to complain about it. No, private industry didn’t, wouldn’t, and couldn’t have done it.

    It started as a DoD project, but what became the “internet” was more an educational venture than a defense one. Certainly what became the “world wide web” was entirely created by commercial interests.

    it’s really just a military tool, anyway – something that is kind of underscored, I guess, by the recent consolidation of all spying (now with zero warrants!) via the converged communication through the internet.

    You don’t want your communications overheard, don’t broadcast them in the open. That’s what encryption is for.

  9. Hal says:

    the problem is that too many people are taking welfare from “providing assistance to those in need” to “providing livelihood for those who want”.

    Yea, you tell ’em. That’s why we need a military budget that is larger than the next dozen or so nations combined. Geebus, I guess the whole military doesn’t ever figure into your fiscal arguments. I’m certainly not suggesting so, but just a 50% cut in the military budgets could finance a zillion social silliness and we’d still be able to kick anyone’s ass. I guess we’d have to do without the top brass’ “comfort modules”, though. I guess those are the military equivalent of “welfare queens” – except for the several orders of magnitude in actual money wasted.

    Certainly what became the “world wide web” was entirely created by commercial interests.

    Um, no. It was started in a government funded Physics lab by Lee. Commercial interests didn’t really start taking any advantage of it until it was already very well developed.

    That’s what encryption is for.

    Ah, the sweet smell of freedom wafting over from our friends on the right. Smell the glove!

    Geebus. Is it any wonder we’re in the state we’re in?

  10. M1EK says:

    Certainly what became the “world wide web” was entirely created by commercial interests.

    No, it wasn’t; your history is lacking. The underpinnings for the world wide web were created by educational institutions, for the most part, as was the browser that eventually became Netscape.

  11. Hal says:

    was entirely created by commercial interests.

    And it should be noted that without the web lying around, no commercial interests would have created it. No one is arguing that commercial interests didn’t capitalize on it. The issue is that the costs were socialized and the profits were privatized.

    Come to think about it, we’re seeing another wave of the same thing with the sub-prime/prime/credit crunch. The costs are socialized and the profits are all privatized.

    Bizarre to call it capitalism, but what the hey. Maybe that’s what capitalism actually is in practice.

  12. Hal says:

    Crap

    sed -e ‘s:laying:lying:g’ <previous comment>

  13. sam says:

    sed -e ‘s:laying:lying:g’

    Watch your language; Windows users read this blog.

  14. Dave Schuler says:

    No, it wasn’t; your history is lacking. The underpinnings for the world wide web were created by educational institutions, for the most part, as was the browser that eventually became Netscape.

    The Internet began as a Defense Department project, the DARPANet. The World Wide Wide was conceived at the CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, again a government-supported institution.

    Mosaic, the predecessor to Netscape, was developed at the NCSA, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. More government interference.

    There’s probably no better example of federal government support having beneficial commercial application than the Internet.

  15. Hal says:

    there’s probably no better example of federal government support having beneficial commercial application than the Internet.

    Close on its heels has to be the Apollo program, though. Integrated circuits, micro electronics, satellites, beginnings of bio tech (monitoring and equipment, not the organic stuff) and a huge slew of other stuff. In 1980, it was figured we reaped at least $7 for every dollar we invested in it. I think that number is far greater now.

  16. Hal says:

    Windows users read this blog.

    Hey, there’s always cygwin…

  17. Michael says:

    The Internet began as a Defense Department project, the DARPANet. The World Wide Wide was conceived at the CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research, again a government-supported institution.

    Mosaic, the predecessor to Netscape, was developed at the NCSA, the National Center for Supercomputing Applications. More government interference.

    But without Netscape, AOL and porn, none of it would be where it is today.

    Hey, there’s always cygwin…

    Windows users don’t use cygwin. Unix users who have to deal with Windows use cygwin, but they already had a Win32 port of perl installed, so they would just s/lying/laying/g anyway. And yes, the order was wrong in the original command.

  18. Floyd says:

    Note to Jerry Pournelle….. certainly NOT!!
    But then… all us cynics think we’re realists.

  19. Hal says:

    Hey, no one is denying commercial interests have done a great job of exploiting and building the ‘tubes out. The issue, which you keep ignoring, is that commercial interests would have never built the ‘tubes in the first place. The risk was staggering and no one had any clue as to what it would become – and I’m just talking about when biz just started to sniff around.

    Wrt my sed… Oh well, it’s not like I make a stunning amount of use of it these days…

    Wrt cygwin… Not true- many of my cohorts are pure windows developers and simply can’t live without it. Guess your mileage may vary…

  20. Bruce Moomaw says:

    Yes, it is fascinating, isn’t it, that — as that final comment of his makes clear — Pournelle believes, with a straight face, that the average rich man works harder for his money right now than the average nonrich man, and that the GOP is less fond of corporate welfare than the Democrats?

    As for O’Rourke, whether HE favored leftism or rightism at the time he wrote “Parliament of Whores” depended on whether, at a particular moment, he was writing an article for “Rolling Stone” or the “American Spectator”. (A comparison of his simultaneous pieces for those two magazines is hilarious; it makes the Batman villain “Two-Face” pale by comparison.)

    The most interesting question of all, however, is why Joyner himself is willing to quote the drivel from these two in the first place.

  21. People who are generally irresponsible with their lives and money (such as certain financial and business types) may or may not be more numerous than people who are responsible, people who live within their means. But the responsible ones are the ones more likely to vote. If government only exists to pay government workers and to buy votes, then the people who who are responsible with their money and who vote would be the ones getting paid off. The irresponsible ones could not care less what the government does.