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Quote of the Day: Society and Government

 

“Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil.”  – Thomas Paine

Yesterday a Ricochet contributor was arguing Washington could do better than gridlock. My first thought was that while it could, it did better than gridlock only rarely. That is because, as Thomas Paine notes, government is generally a negative.

It is often a necessary negative. We want our military to stop other nations from invading us (a negative use of the military) not to conquer territory (a positive use of the military). We want the law to restrain society’s predators from preying on others (a negative). We (rightfully) resent the law when it attempts to modify personal behavior. The best rights are negative rights (freedom of speech, freedom to bear arms, freedom from government intrusion), while positive rights (the right to receive free stuff) quickly devolves into beggar-your-neighbor games.

Can government do positive well? Occasionally, but only rarely. That is because legislators usually fail to consider potential unintended consequences. As Don Marquis once observed, “When the government gets an idea, they usually get it all wrong.” (And he wrote this back in the 1920s.)

A good dose of gridlock for the next two years should have many salutatory effects. It will allow the economy to roar on. It will keep the government from giving us more stuff we neither need nor want (but have to pay for). It may even make people realize their happiness does not come from Washington DC. (That last one is probably too much to hope for.)

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There are 14 comments.

  1. Thatcher

    One potential positive might be the Trans-Continental railroad. By allowing the train companies free land (the checkerboard system) around the tracks, plus the protection of the Army, it helped settle the West.


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    • #1
    • November 8, 2018 at 7:06 am
    • 3 likes
  2. Member

    And this is why, to Conservatives, a “Do-Nothing Congress” is a feature, not a bug.

    • #2
    • November 8, 2018 at 7:16 am
    • 7 likes
  3. Member

    Gridlock is ok. If the House goes to impeachment, investigations, and generally Trump harassment, we know, without question, what they will get in return. The House and the Senate should try for whatever deals that can be made.

    • #3
    • November 8, 2018 at 7:51 am
    • 3 likes
  4. Member

    I’m currently reading a book written by Donal J. Trump, published in 2015. Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America.

    I am astonished at his suggestions in 2015, that have been implemented and in place by 2018. He is right on spot. The still never “Trumpers” should read this book, then shut the heck up and help him do his job. He uses his own money to accomplish a lot, gives his presidential salary away, know a tremendous amount about medical insurance as he has provided this insurance for thousands of employees for many years.

    Most of the negative remarks and resistance is simply because “they don’t like him personally.” However, he gets things done instead of dithering about it as our congress and house does.

    I have had people tell me he is only in it to “get richer” but he is already a billionaire. I personally believe that some have accepted the negative narrative being promoted.

    Seawriter: It is often a necessary negative. We want our military to stop other nations from invading us (a negative use of the military)

    I don’t believe this is a negative. If we have the strongest and best military in the world, and we act to protect other nations (our allies and others) from attacks as well as ourselves, this is a positive. Look at what he has done already to stop bad behavior from some countries.

    I can forgive him for bragging about his accomplishment because he has so many. Good grief, if we had had just one president in the last 40 years to do just 10 of the things he has done, this country would be a lot better off.
     

    • #4
    • November 8, 2018 at 8:34 am
    • 5 likes
  5. Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    Seawriter: It is often a necessary negative. We want our military to stop other nations from invading us (a negative use of the military)

    I don’t believe this is a negative. If we have the strongest and best military in the world, and we act to protect other nations (our allies and others) from attacks as well as ourselves, this is a positive. Look at what he has done already to stop bad behavior from some countries.

    Don’t confuse positive with beneficial. If you pay down debt, that has a negative result on your accounts payable, even though that negative has a beneficial result.

    It may be beneficial, but all defense is a negative use of the military. It is intended to stop something, not get something. Using the military to take resources from others is a positive use of the military (even if it had adverse consequences), while using the military to stop someone from taking resources from others is a negative use of the military (even if the result is beneficial).

     

    • #5
    • November 8, 2018 at 9:04 am
    • 2 likes
  6. Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    Seawriter: It is often a necessary negative. We want our military to stop other nations from invading us (a negative use of the military)

    I don’t believe this is a negative. If we have the strongest and best military in the world, and we act to protect other nations (our allies and others) from attacks as well as ourselves, this is a positive. Look at what he has done already to stop bad behavior from some countries.

    Don’t confuse positive with beneficial. If you pay down debt, that has a negative result on your accounts payable, even though that negative has a beneficial result.

    It may be beneficial, but all defense is a negative use of the military. It is intended to stop something, not get something. Using the military to take resources from others is a positive use of the military (even if it had adverse consequences), while using the military to stop someone from taking resources from others is a negative use of the military (even if the result is beneficial).

     

    I think the way you are trying to have us use positive and negative is going to create some confusion. I frequently use negative to mean detrimental and positive to mean beneficial. It looks as if you want those words only used for increases and reductions.

    • #6
    • November 8, 2018 at 9:09 am
    • 2 likes
  7. Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    I think the way you are trying to have us use positive and negative is going to create some confusion. I frequently use negative to mean detrimental and positive to mean beneficial. It looks as if you want those words only used for increases and reductions.

    This is why folks get wrapped around the axle about positive and negative rights. Positive rights must be good because they are positive. Guaranteed education, guaranteed healthcare are positive rights, But they are positive because you get something for nothing – which means someone else gets nothing for something. Someone is forced to give you the goods and services associated with positive rights.

    Similarly many people think negative rights are bad because they are . . . well . . . negative. But a negative right is something government cannot force you to do or stop. Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech or the press or practice of religion. You may not be compelled to give evidence against yourself. Your property may not be taken without due process of law and just compensation. Those rights are good.

    The general point Paine makes is that government action is almost invariably negative. It stops others from attacking you (good). It takes stuff from you (bad, although it can be mitigated).

    If people do not understand this then we might as well give up on representative government, because that means the governed cannot give meaningful consent.

    • #7
    • November 8, 2018 at 9:36 am
    • 3 likes
  8. Member

    Seawriter (View Comment):

    Bob Thompson (View Comment):
    I think the way you are trying to have us use positive and negative is going to create some confusion. I frequently use negative to mean detrimental and positive to mean beneficial. It looks as if you want those words only used for increases and reductions.

    This is why folks get wrapped around the axle about positive and negative rights. Positive rights must be good because they are positive. Guaranteed education, guaranteed healthcare are positive rights, But they are positive because you get something for nothing – which means someone else gets nothing for something. Someone is forced to give you the goods and services associated with positive rights.

    Similarly many people think negative rights are bad because they are . . . well . . . negative. But a negative right is something government cannot force you to do or stop. Congress shall pass no law abridging the freedom of speech or the press or practice of religion. You may not be compelled to give evidence against yourself. Your property may not be taken without due process of law and just compensation. Those rights are good.

    The general point Paine makes is that government action is almost invariably negative. It stops others from attacking you (good). It takes stuff from you (bad, although it can be mitigated).

    If people do not understand this then we might as well give up on representative government, because that means the governed cannot give meaningful consent.

    I have never used those terms that way myself. I consider my rights to be inherent, period. Government benefits are not rights in my view. The Bill of Rights enumerates some government benefits (guarantees) to secure and protect my inherent rights.

    • #8
    • November 8, 2018 at 11:01 am
    • 2 likes
  9. Contributor

    Seawriter: A good dose of gridlock for the next two years should have many salutatory effects. It will allow the economy to roar on. It will keep the government from giving us more stuff we neither need nor want (but have to pay for). It may even make people realize their happiness does not come from Washington D. C. (That last one is probably too much to hope for.)

    So very true, @seawriter. Maybe they get into less trouble if they can’t get anything done!

    • #9
    • November 8, 2018 at 12:17 pm
    • 2 likes
  10. Member
    Seawriter Post author

    Susan Quinn (View Comment):
    Maybe they get into less trouble if they can’t get anything done!

    Maybe? Almost certainly.

    • #10
    • November 8, 2018 at 12:39 pm
    • 4 likes
  11. Coolidge
    TBA

    The negative/positive rights thing makes sense but I wonder if we could ourselves find words that children could understand with ease. 

    It might result in better Americans in the long run. 

    • #11
    • November 9, 2018 at 8:35 am
    • 2 likes
  12. Member

    TBA (View Comment):

    The negative/positive rights thing makes sense but I wonder if we could ourselves find words that children could understand with ease.

    It might result in better Americans in the long run.

    I find it easier to label what are being called here negative rights just ‘rights’ (those are the ones enumerated and protected in the Bill of Rights and not to be taken as exhaustive) and to label what many call positive rights as ‘entitlements’, these would typically be government benefits provided through taxation. This, I think, is a libertarian-leaning approach.

    • #12
    • November 9, 2018 at 8:51 am
    • 3 likes
  13. Inactive

    Kay of MT (View Comment):

    I’m currently reading a book written by Donal J. Trump, published in 2015. Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America.

    I am astonished at his suggestions in 2015, that have been implemented and in place by 2018. He is right on spot. The still never “Trumpers” should read this book, then shut the heck up and help him do his job. He uses his own money to accomplish a lot, gives his presidential salary away, know a tremendous amount about medical insurance as he has provided this insurance for thousands of employees for many years.

    Most of the negative remarks and resistance is simply because “they don’t like him personally.” However, he gets things done instead of dithering about it as our congress and house does.

    I have had people tell me he is only in it to “get richer” but he is already a billionaire. I personally believe that some have accepted the negative narrative being promoted.

    Seawriter: It is often a necessary negative. We want our military to stop other nations from invading us (a negative use of the military)

    I don’t believe this is a negative. If we have the strongest and best military in the world, and we act to protect other nations (our allies and others) from attacks as well as ourselves, this is a positive. Look at what he has done already to stop bad behavior from some countries.

    I can forgive him for bragging about his accomplishment because he has so many. Good grief, if we had had just one president in the last 40 years to do just 10 of the things he has done, this country would be a lot better off.

    I liked a lot of what I saw of Donald Trump in 2015. It is a shame more people didn’t seek out the interviews he conducted then.

    And he really has tried to remain true to much of what he espoused in that distant era. I wonder if he is able to remember that time: before he was picked on for every aspect of his life, and investigated in a major way for the projections made by Ms Hillary “Russian Uranium Deal” Clinton.

    • #13
    • November 11, 2018 at 11:50 am
    • 3 likes
  14. Inactive

    Seawriter, you had me at “Thomas Paine.”

    • #14
    • November 11, 2018 at 11:51 am
    • 3 likes