What is government for?

Greg Lindsay

10 February 2017 | Ideas@TheCentre

ausFor someone who has observed politics and the changing political culture as long as I have, the current wave of change and dissatisfaction gives no comfort. Whether in Australia or elsewhere, the grumpiness of the electorate is playing out in ways that could have been foreseen, but too many hoped would just go away.

Constant talk of political elites and the political establishment in some sort of haughty battle with the common man may carry a ring of truth, but the reality is that elites run things.  They always have.  It’s just the colour of their jerseys that the fight’s probably focused on right now. ‘I don’t like your elite and would rather be run by mine.’ But there are legitimate questions too over government functions. That’s not to say the so-called elites, the political classes in particular, may be way out of touch with the everyday Australian, but any discussion of this implies many things.

Frankly, I’d rather not be run by any of them. But given we have a political system that gives tasks to governments to perform, being run by someone is the reality in our democracy. The question for us then is what does all this mean and what are the limits if they exist at all?

We hear that politics is not listening to the citizens, not serving their interests, falling out with the hopes and aspirations of the people … and so on.  What if they did listen, serve and reverse that falling-out?

Is government some sort of magic pudding that is there to sate the appetites of all?  Seems like it. If so, then we are in real trouble. Every government in recent times, of every stripe, has behaved exactly in this way.  It won’t work and it doesn’t work.

If our leaders have to accede to everything the public wants, the demands will never cease and the dissatisfaction will continue with outcomes that may be more than a little unpalatable.

Yes, I’d rather not be run by any of them. But as I have to be, then I would hope our politicians take heed of the Jeffersonian idea that governments should be there to facilitate individuals striving for happiness — not pretending they can deliver it for them.

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