Stay with me on this… Government does, or can do the following:
- Establish and maintain national defense – intelligence gathering, war fighting, maintaining a fighting force, supporting that fighting force after the fact.
- Serve as a counterweight to the forces of paleocapitalism – where the people with the most money want to consolidate and build empires no matter the cost to society as a whole, government is theoretically the bully to bully the bullies back.
- maintain social order, which facilitates regular, predictable interactions in the public sphere, whether they be financial transactions, establishes a mechanism to protect people from grievous harm… really, this is another way of looking at the bully to out-bully the bullies argument, except this time applied to black markets and criminal enterprises.
- organize large projects for the common good that could not be accomplished by individuals acting alone: infrastructure, public parks, and the like.
Each of these roles plays up against the other – sometimes the fourth and the second inform each other, in the case of preventing oil companies from pouring their toxic byproducts directly into a river, for example.
Some of these functions can only be accomplished by a federal government: you wouldn’t necessarily want North and South Dakota to develop intelligence capabilities against each other, or to develop their own armies in case of resource scarcity or invasion. And what is South Dakota going to do against a Russian hacking incident? The efficiencies of scale dictate that, in this application, we’re best to have this function organized for everyone vs. having 50 different methodologies for providing national defense. Similarly, when corporations operate across all 50 states, it helps to have a single bully to counteract the less noble tendencies of ever-man-for-himself capitalism.
But for the most part, the arguments between conservatives and liberals used to be about what the right balance was between order and chaos. The conservative faction has argued for greater chaos in the public sphere (commerce, environment, trade) and more order in the private sphere (sexuality/identity, personal responsibility, recreational drug use, protecting belief-based discrimination, so long as the belief is Christian).
An interjection of inconvenient evidence: the argument for personal order and public chaos is largely ideological rather than pragmatic – the historical record is pretty clear that chaos in the public sphere brings us greater income inequality, more social unrest, and poor economic outcomes. Both the Great Depression and the Great Recession are tied to Republican sweeps of the Senate, the House, and the White House. States where the leaders have had great faith in the notion of public-sphere chaos bringing prosperity have tangible evidence to suggest that this article of faith is baseless. Check Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Kansas.
On the other hand, the liberal position is for greater order in the public sphere (regulation of banks, regulation for environmental impact, more investment in projects that benefit everyone) and greater chaos in the personal sphere (bodily integrity for women, collective responsibility, a live-and-let-live approach to sexuality and identity, deregulation of some recreational substances coupled with science-based support to individuals with addictions).
These originating propositions have long-since been obscured by emotional manipulation. But who cares what you believe and which political proposition you align yourself with? Let’s start with a true or false proposition: money is the major driver behind society’s big gears – policy, politics, etc.
The next true/false proposition: Companies have a vested interest in individuals’ political and commercial behavior.
If you think companies (as a whole) are enlightened entities out to serve the common good, I’m not sure we can have this conversation.
If you believe that commercial concerns – Exxon, Walmart, McDonalds – are primarily driven by the desire to generate profit… then do those companies have incentive to support political behavior that furthers their ability to generate profit? How is that best accomplished? I would propose that fear is one of the most effective sales tools imaginable.
Which brings us to this: what are you afraid of, and who is profiting from that fear?