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Trust and government

Fri, Feb 8th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

Polls over recent years demonstrate a declining trust in government, especially Congress. A recent Pew Research Center poll suggests citizens in rising numbers feel that the federal government threatens their personal rights. In 1995, 36 percent felt the federal government threatened their personal rights; that number has risen in 2013 to 53 percent.

The federal government seems to continually fall short in resolving problems the country is facing. A Gallop Poll taken in mid 2012 suggests that Congress has been the biggest disappointment at 13 percent approval. The President and the Supreme Court get much better marks. Big business and banks are only trusted by 21 percent. All told, trust in Washington seems to be at a historical low. Washington is significantly more trusted to handle international problems than domestic problems. State governments enjoy about a two-thirds positive rating and local governments do better yet with about three quarters of respondents giving them a positive rating.

A Symbiotic Relationship

According to the Pew Poll, over half of the respondents believe the federal government threatens their personal rights. I agree there are some unnecessary laws and regulations on the books at all levels of government, but on the whole, I feel laws and regulations increase individual freedom much more than they reduce individual freedom. Without government, freedom would be lost.

Anarchism is the doctrine that professes that all government should be abolished. Anarchy is a lack of government and this would severely inhibit personal freedom for almost everybody. Most of us would be at the mercy of the most powerful. A symbiotic relationship is a mutually advantageous association or relationship. This is what I see our government is to the American population. Our system of government certainly isn’t perfect, but probably one of the best in the world.

Striking a Balance

No one likes restrictions on their own preferred activities or on what they can do on their own property. However, we are part of a greater whole, a community where laws and restrictions protect others that could be adversely affected by our actions or us from the actions of others. The various levels of government need to review laws periodically to make sure they are necessary and effective, as the need for government oversight changes over time. More government does not necessarily reduce individual liberties.

Government restrictions limit criminal activity, help assure that we have safe food, clean water and air, and safe medicines. Government keeps order and allows for us to have a climate in which to be prosperous. The restrictions and enforcement of those restrictions are in the interest of the general public and business. Government also assures that we have adequate infrastructure, helps in making education available for our children, and drives some research and development.

In our society it is our job to stand up when we disagree with the direction of government. Good government protects our freedoms. Can you imagine getting from point A to point B without travelable roads or with no traffic laws and enforcement. Over a decade ago the state of Montana tried to put ‘more freedom’ into their traffic laws by putting the speed limit at “reasonable and prudent.” Most may have continued to travel at a safe speed, but some believed 120 miles per hour or more was still “reasonable and prudent.” It was a relatively short-lived experiment. Laws protect us from those who don’t have the good sense or moral character to restrict themselves; this includes businesses.

The extent of necessary government is often the crux of the disagreements. What would those who want to reduce the role of government do away with: safe water, good roads, health care for the elderly, a safety net for the less fortunate or the disabled, a safe way to dispose of garbage and sewage, research and development, vaccination programs that have virtually eliminated polio and smallpox, education, law enforcement, fire fighters, natural disaster relief, and so on? Many of us take these services for granted and would only notice when they are gone.

Some argue they should have the freedom to decide whether they wear a seat belt while driving their car or a helmet while driving a motorcycle (required in about 20 states). If it is an individual’s right to risk one’s life unnecessarily, should we as tax payers be responsible for the huge cost of the medical care for the resultant long-term care of a severely and permanently injured accident victim who refused to protect himself?

As Americans we have the freedom to believe what we want to believe. This is perhaps the greatest freedom and can not be taken away. It is our job to periodically review our own beliefs as related to the role of government and keep an open mind. The role of government may need to grow or be reduced over time. Sift information from a variety of sources so you don’t allow yourself to be indoctrinated. Today’s problems are complicated so don’t give up your ability to analyze an issue, your freedom to think for yourself. In part, the negative trend in trusting your government is driven by some extreme voices. Let’s not let these voices drown out the positive elements citizens of this country enjoy from their government. In the end, one’s personal freedom needs to have limits when one person’s freedom infringes on the freedom of others.

We enjoy a free press in this country and individuals have the ability to express themselves in a variety of ways including the Internet. Immigrants flock to this country for the opportunities and freedoms we have. Governments that do really restrict freedoms of their citizens do not have social programs, do not have free speech or a free press, and do not offer a choice of candidates in an election.

For those of us that disagree on the extent of government restrictions and the limits on personal freedoms there is a remedy; elections.

Our capitalistic society would collapse without regulation. Regulations are in place for the benefit of everyone. Government is necessary. Without it there would be little freedom. Government at all levels needs to continue to strive for improvements, but let’s be careful not to destroy what is working for the most part for the general public.

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