No, I don’t really have the answer to the question of why government works or doesn’t work. I don’t think there is one nice easy answer for this. I do think there are a few contributors. There are some obvious ones that many people point to – competency of people in government being one. Well, duh! Some people claim that government works or doesn’t work based on the policies that the government officials espouse. Well, yes and no. Policy is important, but I’m not sure that policy is whole answer. I think it goes deeper than that.
There are a few things that don’t get talked about when it comes to this subject. I like to put them in the form of a question. What is the foundation/reason for why a government was formed? What is the relationship between the government and those governed? What role does trust come into the relationship between people and their government.
Now, I don’t any recorded data, just some of my own observations, so take this for what it’s worth.
Often, people point to other countries for examples of what should happen in the US. I get the idea, but I see challenges with this. Comparing the US with other countries can be tricky. I’m not basing this argument on the idea the US is somehow special in the eyes of God. I think when we compare countries we should consider a few things – do they have a similar history? Were they formed in a similar way? Do the people trust their government or see it as something different?
When I think about the history of the US, I see a country that was formed on a foundation of mistrust of the ruling power of its day. The founding documents and current Constitution speak of this mistrust. The systems of government espouse this mistrust. It runs through the whole system. And it comes out in its politics even to this day – there is a strong libertarian streak in the US. Is it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Is government dysfunctional because people believe it will be? Who knows? Of course, I’m sure there are some would would debate the dysfunctional level of government.
When I compare a country like Finland, there are some similarities and differences. Finland gained independence because of a war. But there is a different relationship between the people and the government. This has practical effects – people trust their government to do things and expect that the will work. And for the most part they do work well. There is a general idea in Finland that people are willing to pay a higher tax so that the government can tackle a problem.
This is where the challenge of comparing countries comes in. These two outlooks are in complete contradiction. The foundation is different. Everything else is built on top of that foundation. The results then are different.
Too often we have an expectation that a policy implemented in one place will produce similar results in another place. That may be the case, but often it is not. The difference is people. People are different in different cultures. They come at life differently. And those different outlooks have consequences. There are positive and negative consequences to each outlook. It’s a matter of what people are willing to pay with to obtain the consequences.