I have been considering writing a post about the healthcare debate that's currently raging in this country. I am not really surprised by the amount of passion on either side, because our government is considering a major overhaul to something that is central to every person. We all need doctors. In fact we pretty much need doctors to come into the world. Rather than write that post and add more noise to an already loud argument, I thought we could try a thought experiment. Consider the answer to this question:
If the federal budget disappeared today, and you could decide how to spend all the tax dollars; what should the government be doing? For the purposes of this thought experiment, feel free to confuse federal and state governments. Education, for example, is typically the domain of state governments, but if you feel it should be included put it on the list.
Here is my list:
National Defense - It seems to me (and the U.S. constitution) that military expenditures are non-negotiable. Protecting the country is the government's most important function. I would include homeland security, FBI, CIA, NSA, ATF, and Secret Service in this category. We must also take care of those who have served in the past. So we can't get rid of the VA either.
Infrastructure - Powerlines, roads, airports, sewers, dams, and satellites are the things that make life in a civilized nation civilized. The government may not need to be directly involved in the building of all these things, but I do think they all need regulation.
Education - is necessary, and although there are probably much better models than what we have, I'm afraid the horse is out of the barn on this one. We need public education.
NASA - So many things that benefit all of humanity come out of the space program, that I believe it would be foolish to discontinue. I also cannot envision a private model of space exploration that could function.
FDA/FCC/USDA/EPA/CDC - Each of these agencies could be improved, but each is very important. It would be great if government regulation were not necessary, but it is.
Lawmakers - we need to pay the people who work at making the laws for this country. I do not want to abandon democracy and those who are willing to "serve" the country as lawmakers in all three branches deserve to make a living doing so. I hope many of them get fired, because I believe they do not have the best interest of their constituency in mind, but that is a different post.
Treasury - Somebody has to manage the astronomical amount of money we are talking about here.
IRS - Sadly, this seems like a necessity. Even if we got a 20% flat tax we would need the IRS.
You may notice some things missing from this list. It's my list. Feel free to make your own list in the comments.
Tomorrow, in part 2 of this series I'll ask you what the government is actually good at.