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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?

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What government does

What Government Does


POSC 121

Pre course questions for consideration
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 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 does1
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?

Why government
Why Government?

  • 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

Collective action problem
Collective Action Problem

  • Allows us to overcome “Collective Action Problems”

  • We can provide things we can’t provide on our own by coordinating our actions

  • Examples?

  • Usually involves a cost to the individual

  • People would prefer to be a “free rider”

  • Government allows/forces us to act in concert, to achieve collective goals

  • The Private depends on the Public

Classical liberalism
Classical Liberalism

  • But we are highly influenced by the Classical Liberal Tradition (Hobbes, Locke, etc.)

  • Individuals are rational and reasonable

  • They have “natural” rights

  • Therefore they deserve rights and liberties

  • Sound familiar?

  • Works well with democracy and capitalism

  • Leads us to overemphasize the individual and underestimate their reliance on society

Government or the free market
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 market1
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 does2
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
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
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
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 welfare1
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
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
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 freedom1
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
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


  • 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?


  • 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 competition to influence public policy

  • “who gets what, when, and how”

  • Is our democracy more pluralism (governing through competing groups) or elitism (governing by elites)

Power of the market
Power of the Market

  • How has the relation between government and the market has shifted over the last few decades?

  • Growth of corporate capitalism

  • Declining influence of government as a countervailing forces

  • Decline of civic institutions

  • What is Civil Society?

  • Voluntary civic and social organizations?

  • What has happened to these and why?