On the role of government in society

I’m very interested in a quote from New York Governor Cuomo earlier this week:

“I believe this has been transformative for a generation,” he says. “Think about when was the last time government was this vital. I don’t know, maybe in a war? World War II, when government had to mobilize overnight? But literally for decades you haven’t seen government this essential to human life. Literally. And government has to work and it has to work well, and it’s not for the faint of heart. And people want government to perform. And government is making decisions every day that affect their lives and they deserve the best government. They’re paying for it, they deserve it. And they deserve competence and expertise and smarts and for government to be doing creative things and learning like we doing here today.”

-Gov. Cuomo

Coronavirus US live: Cuomo says ‘government essential to human life’ – as it happened

I grew up in a working class family in San Francisco (back when SF was more diverse in all ways, and especially economically), and I perceived government as a social good: it ensured we have schools, hospitals, water/power/sewage services, paved roads, minimum wages, food safety, the right to know what is in our foods and medicines, and certain safety standards and protections for our rights and freedoms provided through public courts. It ensured the existence of the military, and my family has MANY veterans; it ensured that veterans get services in return for their service. Fire departments, police departments, public parks, the coastal commission, the right to vote on issues of local importance… Having a government of/for/by the people seemed like such an OBVIOUSLY good thing!

Governments of/for/by the people don’t do everything right. Wars, selective enforcement of justice/freedoms/punishments, unequal opportunities, the legalization of various forms of corruption , the persecution of minority groups, the slide from justice for people to favoritism for in-groups who can create a cycle of self-enrichment… There are lots of flaws.

Somehow, during my lifetime, corporate broadcast media (and their wealthy owners) provided a narrative something like, ‘the government just takes your money.’ While praising first responders (licensed and often funded by a government service), our school system (same), our veterans (government employees), and emblems of our nation, they have argued for something close to market anarchy. And government has been an obstacle to that (thankfully, though not as well as it could).

But, YES: now we are in a time of global pandemic, and we see what capable governments can do (I’m looking at you, South Korea and New Zealand!), and how much it matters to have a government acting for the collective good.

Good governing is STILL POSSIBLE. It is still an option.

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