Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Is the U.S. a failing state?

Greg Scoblete has a piece up at Tech Central Station in which, recalling Thomas Hobbes' description of the essential functions of a modern nation-state, he questions whether the modern U.S. government qualifies as a failed state.
Katrina's aftermath was, at the end of the day, a testament to just how unmoored the government has become from its fundamental purpose. This unmooring, this failure to properly establish a limited set of priorities and execute them with a high degree of competence springs from two complimentary impulses. As we have channeled the "war of all against all" into constructive political and social outlets, the government has expanded the definition of what "protection" entails. No longer is the Leviathan responsible for our physical security, but our medical security, our retirement security, even our mental health. It's concerned that we smoke and that we're too fat.

But we are not in Hobbes' desired monarchy, where decisions are subject to the arbitrary whims of an unelected crown. We have endorsed this expansive concept of security at the ballot box. This is not the place to debate the merits of specific entitlements only to suggest that a government that continuously assigns itself ever expansive mandates will, by necessity, become more attenuated. Federal officials that should spend time on core issues that only government can tackle, spend time denouncing Mark McGuire and McDonald's.

Republicans of an increasingly rare variety used to endorse the principle of a limited, prioritized government that assigned itself those tasks that only the Leviathan could accomplish, letting other agencies -- local, civil and private -- grapple with the rest. Yet with entitlement spending ballooning and egregious pork barrel spending at unprecedented highs, it's clear setting priorities and making difficult "either/or" decisions is out of fashion.
In short, our government has become a mile wide and an inch deep in effectiveness. Perhaps. As Rush Limbaugh and others have noted, however, there is one government "agency" above all others that has performed well: the U.S. Military. Once called upon, they executed. Similarly, the Red Cross, itself not a government agency, has done its usual above-and-beyond service. No, it was the bureaucrats who failed, not the people in the field. But I've been over that already.

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