The left is often unfairly criticized as wanting too much government. Corporations, on the other hand, chafe under onerous regulations, while the right seems bent on tearing down government entirely. There is a happy medium, however. The goal of this article is to identify the proper role of government, to explain what it should be doing, and why.
Protect Corporations from Themselves
As described in detail in Where Marx Went Wrong, corporations acting in their individual interest have the unintended effect, in the aggregate, of decimating the very market they intend to sell into. So one of government’s most important roles is curtail the individual activities that lead to long-term losses.
Ensure that Society Benefits from Corporate Activity
Capitalism and corporations have produced the most powerful engine of progress ever devised by mankind. But that capability needs to be reigned in, to ensure that society benefits from those endeavors.
Government already curtails “free market” activities like selling a “lemon” disguised as a car, or selling shares in a bridge you don’t own. Government also enforce loan-repayment clauses. Without the trust that such sanctions engender, the market as we know it would not exist. So capitalism already depends on government, to an important degree.
The next responsibility of government is to influence corporate direction, by way of tax breaks and penalties, to ensure that the “path of least resistance” with respect to corporate profits is in the direction that provides maximum benefit for society.
In order to direct corporate endeavors, government must embody wisdom, to the maximum extent possible. To date, the best source of wisdom we have is the result of honest academic pursuit and intellectual inquiry.
Government must embody wisdom
Here are just a few examples of the way in which a government that embodies wisdom could have made a huge difference, in decades past:
- 70’s Oil Embargo
In the late 70’s, an oil embargo led to an outpouring of fuel efficient cars. Two years later, gas guzzlers were once again the norm. Government could have seen the handwriting on the wall as early as then, if not sooner. Gasoline taxes could have been gradually increased, providing revenues for green-energy research, and making alternative energy products cost-effect much sooner, all of could have helped to prevent what is rapidly becoming a potentially species-ending rate of global warming.
- Tobacco Industry
In the 80’s, we owe Surgeon General Everet Koop for his famous dictum, “I go where the science leads me”. But he had a major uphill battle, primarily as a result of the false-information dissemination campaign devised by corporations, under the guise of “independent” laboratories and think-tanks, whose job was to serve as a “resource” for journalists. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that such activities are not in society’s best interest.
- Global warming
In the 1990’s, Al Gore tried to tell us about science that had been known, but that was not well-enough known — that human activity was creating historically unprecedented, and quite possibly irreversible climate change. As with the tobacco industry, corporations acting in their own interest created confusing studies and opposition articles, to the clear detriment of society. Today, though, the situation is even worse. With corporations effectively in control of government, society’s long-term interests are almost entirely sacrificed to short-term corporate interests. As a result, we are quite literally headed towards a precipice.
- Obesity and Disease
What’s Wrong with American Foods? chronicles the many ways in which the American food supply is directly responsible for unprecedented levels of obesity and disease — levels that are unknown in any other industrial society, where corporate activities are more limited by government than they are here.
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