In his essay “The Proper Role of Government,” Ezra Taft Benson wrote, “Seldom are men willing to oppose a popular program if they, themselves, wish to be popular — especially if they seek public office.”
I’m not seeking an office, but the quote stuck in my head last week after a reporter posed a curious question to me. She asked, “Name a government program that you feel does its job well.”
Of course, the inference from such a question is that I, the leader of an organization that believes in limited government and is trying to conquer statism, thinks that all government is bad and every government program is an unmitigated disaster. Additionally, the question is supposed to subject me and my conservative/libertarian friends to scorn and ridicule if I can’t think of a single government program I believe works.
But the question itself misses the point: What is the proper role of government?
Doing a good job shouldn’t exempt a government program from termination. Example: Idaho Public Television. The folks at Idaho Public Television produce excellent, stylish and substantive local programming. Unfortunately, Idaho Public Television is government television, and it is the government competing for viewers with commercial television, to the detriment of for-profit programmers.
Commercial television stations have to make money in order to stay in business. Government does not.
What’s more, Idaho Public Television falls outside the scope of the proper role of government. Why should it be the government’s job to own and operate a television station? Should the government also operate a newspaper in order to bring news to the masses?
The more important question is, in the case of Idaho Public Television, do we feel comfortable taking money away from the people who earned it in order to give it to the government so that the government can bring us all Sesame Street?
I not only think it is a shame that the government does this, it’s a crime against those of us who believe government is too big, too powerful and too intrusive in our lives.
Benson wrote, “I believe we Americans should use extreme care before lending our support to any proposed government program. We should fully recognize that government is no plaything… It is an instrument of force, and unless our conscience is clear that we would not hesitate to put a man to death, put him in jail or forcibly deprive him of his property for failing to obey a given law, we should oppose it.”
So my answer to the reporter is simple: Yes, there are government programs that do their jobs well, but I relish the day those programs that fall outside the scope of government go away. Maybe that statement, as Benson predicted, will make me unpopular with some people, but if in taking a stand against unlimited government we can, as my friend Ralph Smeed says, “make statism unpopular” and once again secure the blessings of liberty, it’s a risk we all need to be willing to take.
- Wayne Hoffman is the executive director of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.