Role of Just Government



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, 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, commitment, or investment.


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:

General Wants

Agency

Rule of Law

Freedom

Freedom to choose how to live their lives

Choices

Laws

Hope

A reasonable expectation of what their lives may be like

Choices must be known

Laws must be publicly known

Order

A reasonable understanding of what they should do to achieve those expectations

Consequences of choices known in advance

Laws must be enforced equally

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 people from unjust harm

from other people

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 people from unjust harm from other people":

  • 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 nearly all 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 people from unjust harm from other people? 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 mature 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 from unjust harm from other people, 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 people.

  • Get out of the way.

Nowadays 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: