9.9. What Governments Can and Can’t Do

9.9. What Governments Can and Can’t Do

If we want to fix our major problems, the government is going to have to play a major role.

The role of government is at the center of many of our political disagreements.

But rather than argue over what the government should or shouldn’t do from an ideological perspective…let’s consider what governments can and can’t do.

Governments have almost total authority within their borders.

They make the laws. They collect the taxes. They can even commit justifiable violence against you, in certain situations.

We’re rightly skeptical of all those capabilities the government has.

We know history is full of examples of governments abusing their power.

That’s why we set up a democracy, to force it to submit to the will of the people.

That’s why we set very clear limits, and checks and balances, on the power of the government.

That’s why many conservatives believe it’s best when the size and scope of the government is small.

But the other way of looking at this is governments are capable of great good, as well as great evils.

In fact, there are certain good things that only the government has the power to do.

Only the government has the ability to pay for and subsidize public goods that our free market can’t deliver.

Only the government has the ability to provide services to people who’ve been left behind, so they can get back on their feet.

Only the government has the ability to protect individuals—and even whole groups of people—from being victimized and forced to live a miserable life, while others get to enjoy every luxury possible.

Wherever there are imbalances, inequalities, and injustices in our society, there’s usually some corrective action that the government can take to fix them.

In fact, you could make the argument that the larger, more diverse, and more complex our society becomes…the more necessary government interventions become.

Maybe in 1800—when there were barely over 5 million people living in the United States—a largely hands-off government would’ve made sense.

But not today, when there are over 320 million of us, many of whom live in huge metropolises.

When many people are denied even a chance to get a good education, or are totally at the mercy of a rapidly globalizing economy.

When millions of people seek to use their freedoms to deprive other Americans of their freedoms.

In my professional opinion, it just isn’t possible to have a small government in this day and age.

I’m not saying that because of my ideology.

I’m saying that because of the math.

The bigger, more diverse, and more complex we get, the more we’re going to need government interventions to keep us all safe, prosperous, and competing on a level playing field.

Of course, governments can be inefficient and wasteful.

Of course, they can abuse their power.

But that doesn’t mean we should give up trying to make our government a force for good.

It means we should try harder.

If we want to fix our major political, economic, and social problems, the government is going to have to play a major role.

Because there are certain things that need to be done that only the government can do.


This is the 149th in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.