Friday, October 29, 2004

Silly Expression #2: 'The Government is Us'

Talk show host Thom Hartmann made this idiotic remark on a C-Span panel the other morning. I wonder if Hartman has ever had an encounter with an arrogant cop who has overstepped the bounds of his legitimate authority. Has he ever been audited by the IRS? I recommend the latter experience for its educational value. One quickly learns who the cat is and who the mouse.

There are two extremes to avoid, the libertarian and the liberal. Libertarians often say that the government can do nothing right, and that the solution is to privatize everything including the National Parks. Both halves of that assertion are patent nonsense. It is equal but opposite nonsense to think that Big Government will solve all our problems. Ronnie Reagan had it right: "A government big enough to give you everything you want is powerful enough to take everything you have." Or something like that.

The government is not us. It is an entity over against most of us run by a relatively small number of us. Among the latter are some decent people but also plenty of power-hungry scoundrels, for whom a government position is a hustle like any hustle. Government, like any entity, likes power and likes to expand its power, and can be counted on to come up with plenty of rationalizations for the extension of its power. It must be kept in check by us, just as big corporations need to be kept in check by government regulators.

From a logical point of view, the ‘Government is us’ nonsense appears to be a pars pro toto fallacy: one identifies a proper part (the government) with the whole of which it is a proper part (the governed).