What Government Does Braunwarth POSC 121
Pre-Course Questions for Consideration Please write out an honest response for each of the following questions: • When I think of U.S. Government, I think of… • What do I personally hope to get out of this course? • How do I think the study of U.S. Government will relate to my day to day life? • If I were going to teach a course on U.S. Government, how would I structure it? • What’s the best class I’ve ever had and why?
Introduction to U.S. Government and Politics • Introduction: This is an entry level course that will survey a number of different aspects of Government and Politics in the U.S. • U.S. Government: We will learn about both the structure and function of the U.S and, to a lesser extent, CA governments • We’ll start with an examination of what government does and why
What Government Does • We all have routines, take a few seconds and make a list what you do on a typical day • Take a second look at your list: which of the items is completely under your control and which are influenced, in some way, by government?
Collective Action Problem • Why is government involved in these things? • Government is simply the mechanism by which people collectively organize to provide things individuals can not provide for themselves • Could a society function without a government? • Whether you like it or not, government is necessary and affects many aspects of your life • Allows us to overcome “Collective Action Problems” • Allows/forces us to act in concert, • at a cost to ourselves, • to provide something we can’t provide on our own
Government or the Free Market • What about the free market? • Is there such a thing as the free market? • What kind of restrictions are there on what can be traded? • How about restrictions on who can participate in markets? • Are we better or worse off with these and other restrictions?
Government or the Free Market • What about restrictions on the ability of those with more money to finance political campaigns or pay for political advertising? • Who benefits when regulations are removed? • Free market boundaries are not objective but are politically determined • Politics is about Power
What Government Does • The preamble of our Constitution essentially lays out what the Framers wanted our government to do • The Preamble
Establish Justice and Ensure Domestic Tranquility • Police powers to Provide Order • Monopolization of Violence • Protect Property • Set the rules that allow commerce to flourish (enforce contracts, punish fraud, etc.) • Why would we want financial markets to be LESS efficient? • Socialize citizens
Provide for the Common Defense • The global society has no government to establish justice • Subsequently all governments have an interest in protecting themselves
Promote the General Welfare • Provide “Public Goods” • Things that everyone can share • Therefore there is no possibility for profit so if they are to be provided, it must be by government • Creates a Free Rider Problem (enjoy the benefits without paying the costs) • Can you think of any examples? • National defense, lighthouse, the reduction of “negative externalities” such as air and water pollution
Promote the General Welfare • Government also provides a number of services that could be, and often are, provided by the private sector • Like what? • Education, libraries, fire protection, medicare, social security, etc. • Why? Isn’t it enough to have equality of opportunity? • Are we going to achieve better outcomes if we leave success solely up to individual competition?
Right to Die • What should we do if a 30 year-old man, who decided not to buy health insurance, found himself in need of six months of intensive care? • Would it make a difference if he had tried to buy insurance but either couldn’t afford it or was denied because of a pre-existing condition? • Should society, through government, try to mitigate some of the “common hazards of life”? • What about compassion? • http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/16/opinion/krugman-free-to-die.html?_r=2&hp
Equality and Freedom • Positive Freedom: Having the power and resources to fulfill one’s potential • Equality requires government action to provide equal opportunities or to remove limitations to political or economic action • Examples? • Why provide these services? • Allows everyone the opportunity to succeed even in the face of tragedy or bad luck
Equality and Freedom • Negative Freedom: absence of restraint • Equality can be best achieved by government getting involved as little as possible, especially in the marketplace • Why would a strong welfare state increase social mobility and make people more open to change?
Secure the Blessings of Liberty • What kind of liberties do we have? • Freedom of speech, press, assembly, etc. • From whom do we need to be protected? • Ironically, one key function of government is to protect us from itself
Politics • While we can all agree the preceding items are necessary • We disagree about how much of each of these we need or whom should provide them (national, state, local) • Politics is the process for determining whose values will prevail • Paradoxically, most people complain about too much government but demand increased government services
Politics • Taken to the extreme, some of the functions of government mentioned above come into conflict with each other. • For instance, we can’t have maximum amounts of both liberty and public services. • We need to contribute taxes to bring about things we can’t achieve on our own • Critics of government argue that the free market will provide what we need more efficiently without government • How and why does the government currently interfere in the free market?