Role of Just Government

Updated: Mar 20



Books written on the proper role of government fill entire library shelves. One could study the wisdom of the world’s greatest political minds for a lifetime and never settle on a single idea.

But what if one lens could be applied to all governments to judge whether they or their laws are just or unjust? What if that same lens could be applied to state and local governments? And what if that lens could be applied to businesses, clubs, and social gatherings all the way down to the smallest unit of society: a friendship between two individuals?

Such a lens would be unimaginably valuable. Yet, one has always existed, and it has a name: Agency.

Agency is the capacity of individuals to act independently

and to make their own choices.

What is rarely understood is three conditions must exist for there to be agency. These conditions apply equally to individuals as well as to entire societies.

For agency to exist,

  1. There must be choices.

  2. Choices must be known.

  3. Consequences of choices must be known before choices are made.

A man who is unaware of a choice doesn’t really have a choice, does he? A woman who faces a choice, but has no idea of its consequences doesn’t really have a choice either, does she? A woman could make such a choice, but the outcome would be determined by what lies hidden behind the curtain and not by her wishes, efforts, or commitment.

I don’t suggest that results from choices must be guaranteed or that our efforts must always pay off, but that a reasonable expectation of outcome should exist from making a choice. When I cross a street with sufficient care and under appropriate conditions, I should have a reasonable expectation that I will get to the other side.

Compare the three conditions required for agency with the requirements for governmental rule of law:

  1. Laws must exist.

  2. Laws must be publicly known.

  3. Laws must be enforced equally.

With a bit of squinting it looks like agency and rule of law are similar. In fact, I propose they are different applications of the same principle.

Universal wants

I wager that all collective peoples who have lived or will live want the following three conditions in their lives:


Yet, how many people have been blessed to live under these conditions? Why wouldn’t all governments seek to provide these conditions for their people?

Why lack of agency?

If good people around the world want freedom, hope, and order, why are they unobtainable by most people across Earth’s history? I believe there are two general reasons for this, and neither reason is necessarily unjust:

  1. The idea of having someone “take care of you” is appealing to many people.

  2. There is almost always someone in every group who seeks to “take care of the group.”

When you give people the authority to “take care of you,” your freedom is reduced. Again, this is not necessarily unjust.

  • When your wife has made dinner for you when you get home, your choice of what to eat for dinner is reduced.

  • When you work for a company, your choice of behavior and apparel while at work is reduced.

Because people understand the idea of “helping each other,” they tend to allow governmental powers to influence their lives to some degree.

Where should the line be drawn?

With every increase in governmental oversight comes a reduction in freedom. Where shall we draw the line between just and unjust when it comes to governmental control? For example, in the United States, the Libertarian Party wants fewer laws, while the Democrat Party wants more laws. Which perspective is more just?

Where can a boundary be set between just and unjust governing?

I believe the entire purpose of any just government is expressed in the following sentence:

The purpose of any just government is

to help protect Person or Group A

from unjust harm

from Person or Group B

Think about that sentence for as long as you can. Can you think of a just law that doesn’t fit the above definition? If you can, please email me at: jeff@jjrlore.com.

Here are examples of laws that some people incorrectly believe are "victimless crime laws" that don't "help protect Person or Group A from Person or Group B":

  • Seatbelt laws. Yes, they protect the wearer, but also help reduce health care costs of everyone else. And an un-seatbelted person during a vehicle accident becomes a projectile that can harm other occupants in the vehicle.

  • Speed limit laws. Yes, they help protect the driver, but also help protect people and property inside and outside the vehicle.

  • Minimum age smoking and alcohol laws protect minors from unjust influence from tobacco and alcoholic drink manufacturers.

Just laws can help protect a person from himself or herself, but only if the law also serves to protect other people or property at the same time. Notice there is no law against watching too much TV, not holding a job, or eating too much even though all such activities, in extreme harm individual health.

What motivates governments to overgovern?

I believe there are two principal reasons for the tendency of governments to overgovern--to become progressively unjust. In nearly all cases where this occurs, government leaders either,

  1. Have good intentions, but do not make wise decisions, or,

  2. Want personal power more than they seek the welfare of their citizens.

If you know of a third reason, please email me at jeff@jjrlore.com.

It's the tendency of most governments to rise to the state of overgoverning, which is


Creating unjust laws or

acting against already established just laws.


Examples of unjust governing

What are examples of unjust governing?

  • Financial bailouts to private companies/corporations

  • Applying laws, regulations, restrictions, and taxes unevenly

  • Wealth redistribution

How do financial bailouts help protect Person or Group A from unjust harm from Person or Group B? In fact, they do the opposite. A bailout for Group A harms Group B by taking monies from Group B via taxation to help Group A, when Group B never harmed Group A.

Selectively applying restrictive regulations to only Group B harms Group B by giving Group A an unfair financial advantage over Group B, when Group B never unjustly harmed Group A.


If Group B has, in fact, unjustly harmed Group A, then just laws should be enacted (or enforced if already enacted) to protect Group A from unjust harm from Group B.


Redistributing wealth from Group B to Group A is unjust if Group B’s wealth was obtained without unjustly harming Group A.


Subsidization

A case can be made for the just, limited, subsidization of small, startup companies. Such promotes potential economic growth. But to subsidize mature, large companies is unjust because that money must come from taxpayers who have no input on where their monies are going. Subsidizing favored, mature companies over other companies encourages a wide range of corporate and governmental corruption, irresponsibility, and inefficiency. Such is presently occurring across most governments in the world today.


Subsidizing mature corporations reduces agency in two ways:

  • Monies taken from citizens against their will are given to businesses that don't represent citizens' interests.

  • Consequences of poor judgement are removed from businesses receiving the monies.

Popular fiction

Movies, television, and books often demonize corporations for their practices, when it is the government's responsibility to oversee and regulate businesses for the purpose of disallowing destructive actions. Why does popular fiction rarely acknowledge the government's abdication of its duty to prohibit unjust business behaviors?


Redistribution

It's unjust for taxes to be taken from me and given to my neighbor who has less income than me if my means of obtaining my income does not unjustly harm my neighbor.


Just laws protect people and groups from unjust harm from other people and groups, while unjust laws benefit select groups of people or businesses while harming other groups of people or businesses.


Positive personal business attitude

I am learning how to become a successful author. My son is building a photography business. Neither of us can imagine wanting to receive a penny from government to help our ventures succeed. We feel it is our responsibility to manage our financial affairs. If everyone had this attitude, the economies of this world would be much healthier.

Proper role of government

Political leaders can serve their people well by doing the following:

  • Provide knowledge, teach, and inspire without filter or bias.

  • Act to help prevent unjust harm between individuals or groups of people.

  • Get out of the way.

Political leaders throughout all levels of governments no longer teach principles. Rather, they offer promises and cast blame. Neither offering promises or casting blame provides any benefit to their people.

Going back sixty years, here is a famous example of how U.S. leaders used to teach:

In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility—I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it—and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.

John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address, 1961

In the above passage, did President Kennedy cast blame and offer promises, or did he inspire and teach?

Examples of just governing

What are examples of just governing? Article 1, Sections 8 through 10 of the U.S. Constitution provides twenty-nine powers to the Legislative branch of the U.S. government. In my opinion, none of these powers are outside of, or conflict with, the following:

To help protect Person or Group A

from unjust harm

from Person or Group B


I’ve listed here a few examples from Sections 8 through 10 (Bracketed words "[ ]" added for clarity):

  • To lay and collect taxes...for the common Defense and general Welfare...but all Duties, Imposts, and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States. [Yes, it actually uses the word “uniform.”]

  • To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.

  • To establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization, and uniform Laws on the subject of Bankruptcies throughout the United States.

  • To provide for the Punishment of counterfeiting the Securities and current Coin of the United States.

  • To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.

  • No Bill of Attainder [punishment without trial] or ex post facto [retroactive] Law shall be passed.

  • No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.

The word uniform is used three times in these examples. I’m confident that most people will agree that for a law to be just, it must be enforced uniformly.

Bill of Rights / states’ rights

Even a causal review of the first ten amendments of the U.S. Constitution will reveal that they are restrictions on the U.S. government, not restrictions on its citizens.


Of particular interest is the Tenth amendment, which is written so clearly anyone can understand it:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

-- Article X, U.S. Constitution

This means that anything not specified by the U.S. Constitution should be controlled by the individual states, and not the Federal government.

States control many areas of our lives. State income tax varies between each state. The method of voting varies between each state. Gun laws vary between each state. Driving laws vary between each state.

State freedoms are vital because if a state passes unjust laws, its citizens may move en masse to other states with fewer unjust laws. States’ rights create competition between states which provides an additional check on governmental oversite. This is a very good thing!


Roe vs. Wade

I am opposed to the 1973 Roe vs. Wade ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, but not because it involves abortion. I am opposed to the ruling because it forces all fifty states to legalize something (abortion). While I am opposed to the widespread recreational use of alcohol, tobacco, marijuana, and pornography, I would never support a federal law prohibiting any of them (except for minors—but that is a different argument).

I believe that individual states should be left to decide matters not specified by the U.S. Constitution. This perspective is in strict conformance with the Tenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which I shall repeat here:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

-- Article X, U.S. Constitution

General Welfare

A common point of debate regarding the proper role of government centers on the phrase “general welfare,” which appears twice in the U.S. Constitution:

First in the Preamble:


“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution of the United States of America.”

Second in Article 1, Section 8:


The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States;

The term “general welfare” in these instances means the general well-being, safety, health, peace, and morality of the citizens. It does not reference the current Federal Welfare system, which did not exist at the time.

And “promoting the general welfare” does not mean promoting the “specific welfare” of one group of people over the welfare of another group of people.


Antitrust laws protect consumers

U.S. Antitrust laws intend to protect consumers from predatory business practices by,

  • prohibiting price-fixing (companies getting together and deciding a price for goods)

  • restricting mergers of companies that would likely substantially lessen competition

  • prohibiting the abuse of monopoly power

Most people don’t know that Antitrust laws do not protect one company from another company. Meaning, if I own a company that sells spoons, and another company sells comparable spoons at a lesser price, Antitrust laws cannot come to my defense.

It's also commonly believed that Antitrust laws prohibit the existence of monopolies. However, the existence of monopolies is legal. It is only the abuses of monopolistic power that is illegal.

Price fixing Laws

Price fixing is where a number of companies agree to charge the same price for goods or services. The motive for price fixing is either to,

  • undercut--by artificially lowering prices--a competitor outside the “group of companies”

  • increase profit by artificially raising prices

In both cases, price fixing is an anti-competitive, anti-free market mechanism that allows multiple companies to abuse monopolistic power.

Why aren't governments better at fostering freedom, hope, and order?

If these principles are so straightforward, easy to understand, and cost nothing to enact, why don’t governments use them more often?


I believe it's because of corruption within governments. Uncorrupt and well-informed governments protect freedoms, while corrupt governments do not.


Why do our leaders no longer teach principles? I believe it is because they are gutless, or are corrupt, or both. I believe that most governments today are more corrupt than their citizens realize.

Final comment

After writing this post, I came across the following quote which says with only twenty-three words everything I have written today:

Government exists to protect us from each other. Where government has gone beyond

its limits is in deciding to protect us from ourselves.

Ronald Reagan

95 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All