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April 10, 2009
How Countries Die

This is an article I encourage everyone to read and think about. Not because it's dramatic or of earth-shattering consequence or anything, unless people make it of consequence.

No, it's because there seem to be a lot of people in this country any more who don't understand what, or why, government is. And a lot of them seem to be in government.

The people in Kauai have taken the first step. A group of people needed something and they pooled their resources to get it. Everyone contributed what they could or what was needed. "Government" was irrelevant, because it made itself irrelevant.

Some day, these people will realize they need several things and they'll appoint someone in the community to 'oversee' the projects, gathering the necessary resources from each community member and making sure things get done. People who don't have a shovel when the time comes to dig a ditch might chip in ten bucks to help pay for gas in the truck to drive dirt and debris to a landfill.

Because work begets work, the Overseer will soon need an assistant and probably a clerk to do the filing. Projects will come up that benefit some community members but not others and they'll have a community vote on whether or not to put community resources into those projects. Most of the people in the community get distracted with their own lives and their own personal projects and forget to keep a sharp eye on what the new Overseer is doing.

Before you know it, you have a government.

And it grows and it grows and it grows.

And, sadly, some day it grows so large that it will forget that it started with a bridge. It will start to believe that government is an end in itself.

The government will have created such an avalanche of paperwork and regulations and cross-department requirements that it will have become self-sustaining.

Its "business" becomes "interdepartmental support." It exists to create work for itself. It continues even if it never builds another bridge. And the government begins to believe that the community exists for the sake of supporting the government.

Some day, the people will need a new bridge. Their "government" will take over and a week-long project that could be completed with community resources will turn into a two-year nightmare with resources shipped in from all over the world, at great cost to the planet and the community.

Or, you know, the community might bypass their government, leaving it to wither on the evolutionary dead end of the vine.

Posted by AnneZook at 08:55 AM


Comments

At some point we went from government being a part of the community to government thinking that it itself was the community.

At some point we went from "everything not forbidden is permitted" to "everything not permitted is forbidden" and things went bad from there.

Right about the time we invented "liability."

Posted by: Ahistoricality at April 11, 2009 07:32 PM

Your post mentions individuals banding together for a common purpose. In contrast, it's the Kauai business community which realizes that it's in their own interest to contribute to the good of the community. Native Hawaiians could live without the bridge, but the businesses would have gone bankrupt. This is a great example for why businesses, small and large, should be required to pay their fair share of taxes. To the government.

Posted by: Liz at April 20, 2009 08:55 AM

At some point we went from government being a part of the community to government thinking that it itself was the community.

It was just about the time we, the People, ceased to be regarded by the Owners as Citizens and became mere consumers.

Posted by: Woody at April 20, 2009 01:27 PM

You may be right, Ahistoricality. But more than the concept of "liability" it was the get-rich-quick mentality that really hurt us. When people started viewing lawsuits as a way to retire young (and rich).

But my honest opinion is that the root of the rot is the concept of a "corporation" as a "person."

Posted by: Anne at April 24, 2009 10:00 AM

You're right as well, Woody.

But I sometimes wonder if this isn't a chicken-and-egg question. Did we become mere consumers because we began to abdicate our responsibility as citizens, or did we give up trying to be citizens because the government thought of us as mere consumers?

Posted by: Anne at April 24, 2009 10:02 AM

I don't disagree, Liz, but at the lowest levels, when you're talking about small, local businesses, I believe there is little difference between business and individual.

I'm not saying that a business is a person or a citizen. More than at the community level, a small business wholly owned locally is intimately entertwined with the health and well-being of the community--the way no branch of a mega-multi-national corporation like Wal-Mart can ever be.

When a business is small enough that it lives and dies by the life of a community, the way the individuals in that community do, then the difference between "business" and "individual" is very slight.

I don't know what companies are the major employers in the community under discussion, of course.

Posted by: Anne at April 24, 2009 10:06 AM