The Role of Government

I think I’m somewhat libertarian. At least that’s what the Political Compass tells me, and it seems to make sense. I tend to believe that people are generally good and will make good decisions when they’re properly informed. I care more for the needs of the individual citizen than I do for the power of the whole state.

I’d certainly rather have socialism, which aims to spend money to help as many people as possible, than conservatism, which aims to save money and maximize personal wealth. Money is imaginary; suffering is not. I’ve known for ages that I’m left-wing, but far more along the lines of Gandhi and Mandela (libertarian) than Stalin (authoritarian).

My ultimate belief is that the actions of the government should adequately reflect the needs and interests of the people. I believe that it’s difficult to achieve this when too much power is given to one person. My ideal system of government, should it become feasible (it certainly would cost a lot), would be a direct democracy – where citizens have the option to vote on every bill, instead of just on their representatives. The government would still exist, but as the group that dished out funding for projects the citizens had voted on, rather than the group that made all the decisions.

It’s not too hard to find examples of how the government’s actions don’t always represent the needs and wants of their citizens. Look, for example, at the American cap-and-trade bill. A Zogby poll found that 71% of Americans favour cap-and-trade, that 67% thought the government was doing either the right amount or not enough about climate change, and that a staggering 45% wanted the government to do more. Here in Canada, where we have more than two parties, 45% support would almost certainly create a minority government. Add in the 22% that thought the American government was doing enough, and you could easily pass all kinds of emissions legislation.

And what is the American Senate doing? Waiting until next year to look at cap-and-trade because they need to spend time on health care. The government is both too large (making all the decisions themselves, whether or not they accurately reflect those who voted for them) and not large enough (unable to focus on more than one major issue at a time).

When we decide what to do about climate change, I strongly believe that our decisions should be based on how the costs and benefits of action vs inaction will affect individual, average people of the world. I am far more concerned about the water security of those who depend on glacial meltwater to drink than I am about the income of an American oil executive.

Everyone is a citizen of the world, even those who can’t vote. Rich people aren’t worth more than poor people. Everyone is equal. And if we held a worldwide referendum on climate change, I have no doubt that we’d find an overwhelming demand for action. Humans are a species like any other, and like all species, we are first and foremost interested in survival.

That’s my take on it. What’s yours?