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By The People, For the People

Gettysburg Address

Gettysburg Address

There tends to be a lot of cynicism towards government. Government often does things we don’t agree with. It often forces us to do things we don’t want to do, or doesn’t allow us to do things we want to do. It taxes us, it sends us to war and it often seems more remote than the stars, yet right in our face.

Yet of all the major institutions in society, government’s the only one that belongs to everyone. It’s the only one that, at least theoretically, exists to look after all our interests. Churches look after their parishioners, and perhaps a few poor people. Corporations look out after their owners and senior executives, and in most cases, no one else. Most hospitals are trying to make a buck these days, and so are most doctors – if you can’t pay, kiss your ass goodbye unless it’s just been shot off.

No, you’re on your own. Maybe your family or friends will try and help you, if they can. But otherwise most people can’t count on any powerful interests to look out for theirs on a regular basis. Those interests don’t exist to help normal people. Their job is to enrich the already well off and to make them more powerful. It certainly isn’t to make sure that regular people are healthier, live longer, make more money or have better lives in any way.

But here’s the deal. Of all the powers in your society, if you live in a democracy, only one is meant to try and help everyone. Only one was set up to do so.

That one is government. By the people, for the people – those words weren’t chosen at random. Government, in the end, is nothing more than a big co-operative. Everyone kicks in what they can, then decides how that money should be used. In a direct democracy that’s done by direct votes. In a representative democracy, it’s done by men and women who are elected to look after the interests of those who elected them. To make them better off, to take care of them when they need help, to build those institutions and infrastructure that no one person can build but which society benefits from, and to protect people.

At the bottom that’s all government is – a way of organizing ourselves to take care of ourselves. Rich and poor, black and white, old and young – government exists for everyone.

Because government gets its revenues from the society as a whole it controls a hell of a lot of money. As a result those who want money always gravitate towards it. Their goal is to direct some of that money towards themselves, or to make laws that cause money to flow to themselves. This is no different from a co-op’s representatives awarding themselves bonuses, or giving business to friends, or legislating that everyone has to buy a specific brand of light bulb – which happens to only be sold by someone who gives them money.

In other words, it’s corruption. And it pays very, very well. Major companies like MBNA don’t give hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars to candidates because it doesn’t make business sense. In fact they are very well aware that such corruption is one of the best paying investments one can make. Returns can be hundreds or thousands of times the money down.

That sort of corruption destroys faith in the only organization that most people will ever have that was set up to look after their concerns. If it were not for government there would be no sewers, no power in rural areas, no mass universal education, far fewer hospitals and no interstate highways. There would be no protection for those laid off, nor any money to live on for those down and out. There would be no army, or navy, or police – no fire department and no ambulances for any but those who could afford private ambulances. No libraries. No internet.

When you pay taxes – these are the things you’re paying for.

When someone corrupts a politician and buys a bill – what he’s doing is taking money you gave to government to be spent for the betterment of everyone; and making sure that it goes to the betterment of him and his friends, rather than for everyone.

Government is the most powerful organization set up to help ordinary people.

But to help you, you have to help it. That doesn’t mean just paying your taxes (though you should), it means paying attention to government. It means watching those who act in your name and watching those who try and buy them or influence them. It requires understanding when your representative has ceased to become your representative and has become, say, the Representative from MBNA.

And it means working to cut out the influence of money.

Money matters in politics because it allows candidates to communicate with voters. We’re in the middle of a change in this – with the Democratic party in the US, for example, now getting more money from ordinary people than from corporations and the wealthy, where we can cut out the cancer of needing the wealthy to cut the big checks.

We’re also at a point of change because of the decline of mass media. The one-to-many one-way model is slowly withering away and the many-to-many or the one-to-many two-way models are rising. As they continue to rise it will be possible to get to potential voters with much less intermediation and at much lower cost.

Money matters when it buys votes. It matters when every additional dollar is a significant additional advantage. But if you can reach voters without as much of it, if the marginal cost of additional dollars is more than the advantage of having them – then a big reason for the current corruption is gone.

All of which is a long winded way of saying – government matters. Sometimes government can be a problem, but the solution to a problem government is taking it back. It’s not corporations, or the wealthy, or churches or any of our other organizations. Each of them has their place – but they are not set up to do what government does, to solve the problems government solves or to look after everyone. Government is the solution to government.

Anyone who tells you that government doesn’t matter wants to use the government to steal from you while you’re not watching.

The price of good government is good citizenship.

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Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh

Ian Welsh was the Managing Editor of FireDogLake and the Agonist. His work has also appeared at Huffington Post, Alternet, and Truthout, as well as the now defunct Blogging of the President (BOPNews). In Canada his work has appeared in and BlogsCanada. He is also a social media strategy consultant and currently lives in Toronto.

His homeblog is at