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The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law.

Galt’s Speech, For the New Intellectual, 183.

Two questions: (1) is this statement literally true as written; and (2) if it is not literally true, then what principle distinguishes activities that it is proper for a government to perform from those that it is not proper for a government to perform.

I take the above statement to be a pithy, high-level summary of the three main categories of proper government action. I find this statement extremely useful as a way to quickly present the main thrust of the Objectivist view of government to those new to it, as well as to help order my own personal thinking at a general level. However, it seems to me that this statement cannot be taken as literally true. In particular, I do not believe that it is literally true that the only possible proper functions of government are police, military, and courts. What about a diplomatic corps? What about collecting government revenue (non-coercively, of course, but even then someone still has to collect and process the funds)? What about managing budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies? These are merely a few examples, and other could easily be thought up.

Granted, the examples I cited are relatively minor functions in comparison to the main functions of police, military, and courts. However, even a minor function disproves the quoted statement if it is taken literally.

For the record, I do not have any major quibble with the quoted statement when it is taken for what it is—a pithy, high level summary. Any succinct high-level summary of a complex issue necessarily omits the various nuances, caveats, exceptions and so on that may pertain to the issue—if the summary tried to account for every such nuance, then it would become too lengthy and complex to serve its function as a summary. Thus, my question here is not meant to "bash" on this statement, but rather to clarify what the proper bounds of this statement are, and to flesh out a more accurate (if less pithy) principled framework for analyzing proposed government activities.

asked May 20 '15 at 13:16

ericmaughan43's gravatar image

ericmaughan43 ♦
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edited May 20 '15 at 13:24

Probably a better quote is the one Rand used in the non-fiction article entitled "The Nature of Government":

"The proper functions of a government fall into three broad categories, all of them involving the issues of physical force and the protection of men’s rights: the police, to protect men from criminals—the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders—the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws."

(May 20 '15 at 16:36) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I believe the very next paragraph answers your question, or at least goes a very long way toward answering it:

"These three categories involve many corollary and derivative issues—and their implementation in practice, in the form of specific legislation, is enormously complex. It belongs to the field of a special science: the philosophy of law. Many errors and many disagreements are possible in the field of implementation, but what is essential here is the principle to be implemented: the principle that the purpose of law and of government is the protection of individual rights."

(May 20 '15 at 16:36) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The whole thing is available for free online (at ari.aynrand.org so I assume it's being distributed with permission of the copyright holder): https://ari.aynrand.org/issues/government-and-business/individual-rights

I would say that that quote is literally true as written. It's not very different from the quote from Galt's Speech (which, of course, was a work of fiction), but it does, apropos to what seems to be your concern with the statement from Galt's Speech, change "functions" into "broad categories" of "functions." (A diplomatic corps falls under the broad category of the army.)

(May 20 '15 at 16:38) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Yes, I agree that your alternative quotation is probably more accurate.

However, I often see the quote in my question cited as proof that a proposed activity is not proper for a government, on the grounds that the proposed activity is not police/military/courts and that "Ayn Rand said that only police, military, and courts are proper."

(May 21 '15 at 11:51) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I also agree that certain activities can be considered as sort of being subsumed under the broader categories of police/military/courts.

However, I do not think that this attempt to subsume all proper government actions under one of these three categories really works. Some clearly proper government activities do not reasonbly fall under any of these categories. For example, revenue collection---this does not seem like police, military, or courts, under even the most strained interpretations. Another example, budgeting and fund oversight/dispersment.

(May 21 '15 at 11:53) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Even your example of categorizing dipolmats under "military" is pretty strained. True, both diplomats and the military are concerned with things external to the country, so there is some connection there. But other than this shared "external" orientation, their natures are quite different. The military protects us by using force to kill people and break suff. Diplomats protect us by reasoned discourse with other countries. These are such different approaches that it is hard to see diplomats as being under the category "military".

(May 21 '15 at 12:05) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Instead, I think that the connection between diplomats and military is that they are both members of a larger category. That is, instead of diplomats being an member of the category "military", both diplomats and military are members of a larger category, which I will call "external threats" for lack of a better name.

(May 21 '15 at 12:08) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I often see the quote in my question cited as proof that a proposed activity is not proper

If you think it makes a difference, I guess now you have something to bring up in those discussions. (I don't think it makes a difference to our discussions about revenue generation, because of exactly what you say below.)

(May 21 '15 at 12:49) anthony anthony's gravatar image

However, I do not think that this attempt to subsume all proper government actions under one of these three categories really works.

Then I'd say that you disagree with Rand's view of the nature of government.

(May 21 '15 at 12:49) anthony anthony's gravatar image

For example, revenue collection---this does not seem like police, military, or courts, under even the most strained interpretations. Another example, budgeting and fund oversight/dispersment.

I think you're largely right about that, but that the problem is not with the principle, but rather with your insistence that revenue collection et. al. cannot be done by non-government entities. As I said elsewhere, in capitalism all property is privately owned.

With all due respect, I think you're rationalizing - going from your answer to the principle instead of from the principle to the answer.

(May 21 '15 at 12:50) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The military protects us by using force to kill people and break suff. Diplomats protect us by reasoned discourse with other countries. These are such different approaches that it is hard to see diplomats as being under the category "military".

Rand defines the role of the category of "military" (she actually uses the term "armed services" but I don't think the term is important so much as the definition) as "to protect men from foreign invaders". From your own explanation, the purpose of both "the military" and "diplomats" is (and is limited to) "to protect men from foreign invaders".

(May 21 '15 at 12:55) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Another example, budgeting and fund oversight/dispersment.

In your question you call that "managing budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies." As I see it, that's at least arguably not a proper function of government (you essentially make the argument yourself, in an attempt to disprove the principle).

If "budgeting and fund oversight/dispersement" just means running the armed services, ensuring that there are enough commitments of resources to do the jobs, and making sure everything is being done efficiently, I do think that's within the scope of the armed service.

(May 21 '15 at 13:00) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Instead, I think that the connection between diplomats and military is that they are both members of a larger category. That is, instead of diplomats being an member of the category "military", both diplomats and military are members of a larger category, which I will call "external threats" for lack of a better name.

I essentially agree with that. Rand called that category "the armed services" in the quote above. (Maybe not a great name. Arguably a better name than "external threats". But either way, ultimately I don't think the name matters. It's the concept that counts.)

(May 21 '15 at 13:03) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Anything we do with names right now is necessarily going to be somewhat misleading if taken out of context. The army of a capitalist government is not going to be the same as the army of the USA today. The diplomats of a capitalist government are not going to be the same as the diplomats of the USA today. In both cases, the significant difference is that they'll be limited to the sole purpose of protecting US citizens from foreign invaders (and in my opinion that probably means they won't be used for the purpose of raising money for the general funds).

(May 21 '15 at 13:09) anthony anthony's gravatar image

... the problem is not with the principle, but rather with your insistence that revenue collection et. al. cannot be done by non-government entities.

Huh? When did I insist that? My insistance is that just because it can be done by a private company does not mean it cannot be done by the government.

(May 21 '15 at 13:18) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

As I said elsewhere, in capitalism all property is privately owned.

So... what precisely does that mean with regard to this question? I am not trying to be flippant, I just really don't understand the intended relevance of this statement.

(May 21 '15 at 13:19) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

With all due respect, I think you're rationalizing - going from your answer to the principle instead of from the principle to the answer.

Citing concrete counter examples to a statement is hardly rationalizing.

(May 21 '15 at 13:25) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

As I see it, under a proper government it would make more sense for diplomats to be under the same command and control structure as the military, as their sole job would be to help protect us from foreign invaders (no negotiation of trade agreements or international monetary policy or non-military space exploration treaties, at least apart from the implementation of blockades and embargos and the like).

(May 21 '15 at 13:25) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Then I'd say that you disagree with Rand's view of the Nature of Government.

I do not think so, although others might I guess. I agree whole heartedly with the general principles Rand espoused about government. I merely disagree with any interpretation of the quoted statement as literally forbidding any activity to the government that is not police/courts/military.

(May 21 '15 at 13:31) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

In your question you call that "managing budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies." As I see it, that's at least arguably not a proper function of government (you essentially make the argument yourself, in an attempt to disprove the principle).

I do not understand this assertion at all. When do I argue that budgeting and dispursement of funds is not a proper government function?

(May 21 '15 at 13:34) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I merely disagree with any interpretation of the quoted statement as literally forbidding any activity to the government that is not police/courts/military.

My interpretation of the quoted statement is that it literally forbids any activity of the government that does not fall under the broad categories of protecting the government's citizens from criminals, protecting the government's citizens from foreign invaders, and settling disputes involving the government's citizens according to objective laws. Limiting government to "police/courts/military" is shorthand for that.

(May 21 '15 at 13:49) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I do not understand this assertion at all. When do I argue that budgeting and dispursement of funds is not a proper government function?

You didn't, at least not directly and in those words. You argued that "managing budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies" doesn't fall under any of the categories of government functions which Ayn Rand said all proper functions of government fall under.

Sorry I wasn't more clear. I blame it at least partially on this dumb character limit. :) But my apologies.

(May 21 '15 at 13:58) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Ahh, I see the potential source of disagreement/confusion. Perhaps we are not as far apart on this as it initially appeared.

We both agree, I would venture, that the only legitimate purpose of the government is to protect individual rights, and that activities that fulfill this purpose can generally be broken down into the categories of protecting from domestic criminals, protecting from foreign threats, and settling legal disputes. Where I part ways from some is that I think that activities that are instrumental to fullfiling the government's purpose are perfectly permissible for...

(May 21 '15 at 15:18) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

the government to perform, even if those activities themselves are not directly protecting rights. Thus, for example, I see no problem with the government having a Treasury department, which handles the finances of the government (e.g., collection of revenue, dispersement of funds between the various government agencies, etc.), because these functions are instrumental to the government acheiving its purpose of protecting rights. Although these activities themselves do not directly protect rights, they facilitate those direct actions of the government that do protect rights (e.g., police).

(May 21 '15 at 15:24) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I don't think Rand would disagree. My understanding of her statements is that she was discussing the major ways of directly acting to protect rights, but that she allowed that there may be other permissible ancillary functions ("corralaries and derivatives"). My question then is, essentially, "how do we determine which activities are one of these permissible 'corralaries and derivatives'?" Where I was disagreeing with you was that I do not think the activity has to fall conceptually under one of the categories of police/military/court to qualify as permissible "corralaries and derivatives."

(May 21 '15 at 15:33) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Instead, to me, the acitivity needs to be instrumental to the fulfilment of the government's purpose, regardless of whether the activity itself is a type of police activity, military operation, or court function.

(May 21 '15 at 15:35) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

So... what precisely does [under capitalism all property is privately owned] mean with regard to this question?

It means that under capitalism all money is privately owned.

Citing concrete counter examples to a statement is hardly rationalizing.

It is when you don't cite any basis for the concrete counter example.

To put it another way, why must (must!) "managing budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies [emphasis mine]" be allowed? Why can't each department handle its own budgeting and fundraising?

(May 21 '15 at 15:38) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Where I part ways from some is that I think that activities that are instrumental to fullfiling the government's purpose are perfectly permissible for he government to perform, even if those activities themselves are not directly protecting rights.

I agree with that, but I think you have to be very careful how you apply it, otherwise you can use it to justify anything. Just look at the "necessary and proper" clause.

(May 21 '15 at 15:41) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Thus, for example, I see no problem with the government having a Treasury department . . . because these functions are instrumental to the government acheiving its purpose of protecting rights.

I'm not convinced that a Treasury department is instrumental to achieving the purposes of government.

I'm not going to go further than that right now. Maybe I could be convinced. And I think at this point we're talking about something outside the scope of Objectivism and within the scope of the philosophy of law (which is something I'm interested in, so I don't care so long as it's allowed here).

(May 21 '15 at 15:41) anthony anthony's gravatar image

your insistence that revenue collection et. al. cannot be done by non-government entities.

Huh? When did I insist that?

"However, it seems to me that this statement cannot be taken as literally true. In particular, . . . What about collecting government revenue (non-coercively, of course, but even then someone still has to collect and process the funds)?"

I took that as you saying that Rand's statement about the proper functions of government can't be taken as literally true in part because one of the proper functions must be to collect revenue.

(May 21 '15 at 16:02) anthony anthony's gravatar image

My response is that yes, "someone still has to collect and process the funds" which are used to, for example, pay people to build nuclear submarines. But that doesn't mean that government has to do it. Non-government entities can do it. A non-government organization can be set up to collect money to be used to build nuclear submarines, or to be used to fund a particular war, or to be used to fund any war which the board of the organization chooses to fund, or to be used to fund any government project which the board of the organization chooses to fund, or to fund the POTUS war slush fund or...

(May 21 '15 at 16:04) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I took that as you saying that Rand's statement about the proper functions of government can't be taken as literally true in part because one of the proper functions must be to collect revenue.

My argument, in part, is that it would be permissible for the government to perform certain functions, such as revenue collection.

That does not mean, however, that revenue collection cannot be done by non-government entities. Just because it would be permissible for the government to perform the activity does not mean that it is impossible for a private entity to perform the activity.

(May 22 '15 at 10:16) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

In other words, I did not argue that the government must perform revenue collection, but rather only that it must be permissible for them to perform it.

Remember that it is you who asserts that no activity can be both permissible for the government to perform and permissible for the private entity to perform---it must be one or the other, on your argument. However, I reject that premise, and thus my assertion that it is permissible for an activity to be performed by the government does not imply that it is impossible (or improper) for a private entity to perform the activity.

(May 22 '15 at 10:20) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

On my view, there are activities that only the government can properly do (e.g., punishing criminals), there activities that only private entities can properly do (e.g., selling ice cream cones), but there are also activities that it would be proper for either the government or a private entity to perform (e.g., revenue collection, government accounting, government “human resources”, etc.).

(May 22 '15 at 10:31) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

My answer to this question explains my view on how to determine whether the government can permissibly perform an activity. Footnote [1] includes further explanation, although in the footnot the focus on the negative side of the issue(i.e., why certain actions would be forbidden to the government). You will see that my view expressed in that answer is essentially similar to that expressed in Greg's answer to this question.

(May 22 '15 at 10:34) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Why can't each department handle its own budgeting and fundraising?

I never said they could not. I merely argued that these activities are permissible government activities. Whether each "department" handles these activities themselves or whether there is a seperate "department" that specializes in these activities either way the government is performing the activity. If the activity is improper for the government to perform, it does not somehow transform into a proper activity by dividing it's performance up peicemeal among the various departements.

(May 22 '15 at 10:45) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

That does not mean, however, that revenue collection cannot be done by non-government entities.

I see there's a misunderstanding here.

I believe your argument is that revenue collection (for government functions) cannot be done solely by non-government entities.

My position is that revenue collection (for government functions) can be done solely by non-government entities. Therefore, if that is true, it isn't necessary or instrumental for it to be done by the government, and therefore it shouldn't be done by the government.

(May 22 '15 at 10:46) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Remember that it is you who asserts that no activity can be both permissible for the government to perform and permissible for the private entity to perform---it must be one or the other, on your argument.

Not exactly, and that's the area of misunderstanding.

Obviously some activities can be both permissible for the government to perform and permissible for the private entity to perform. For instance, the government can enter into contracts, and private entities can enter into contracts.

To put my statement another way, if a function can be done instead by private entities, it should.

(May 22 '15 at 10:48) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I did not argue that the government must perform revenue collection

As I understand it, you claim (as a base assumption) that revenue collection by the government is instrumental to protecting rights. Am I wrong in that something which is instrumental (or necessary) must be performed?

(May 22 '15 at 10:55) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If it is proper for each "department" (police, military, courts) to have perform activity X (say, accounting for their funds), then why in the world would it be improper to consolidate those same activities X into a specialized "department" for doing X.

I say, look at the substance of the activity to determine whether it is proper, not the label of the department.

(May 22 '15 at 10:57) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

On my view, there are activities that only the government can properly do (e.g., punishing criminals), there activities that only private entities can properly do (e.g., selling ice cream cones)

You believe that government can't properly sell ice cream cones?

If so, why? Why can't government properly sell ice cream cones in order to generate revenue?

I too believe that government can't properly sell ice cream cones, but my argument would be exactly the same as my argument against the government selling mercenary services.

(May 22 '15 at 10:58) anthony anthony's gravatar image

It means that under capitalism all money is privately owned..

This still does not explain the relevance of the assertion to the question at hand.

Furthermore, I do not think that this assertion is true, if I understand you correctly. Are you asserting that the government cannot own anything? I cannot agree with that. The government can own property, for example, if it purhcases the property from a private citizen. Furthermore, money that is voluntarily donated to the government or exchanged with the government for a service is then owned by the government. Who else would own it?

(May 22 '15 at 11:10) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

My answer to this question explains my view on how to determine whether the government can permissibly perform an activity. . . . You will see that my view expressed in that answer is essentially similar to that expressed in Greg's answer to this question.

I also saw that I upvoted your answer to that question. I agree with both the principle ("the government should only engage in activities that are instrumental to achieving the legitimate purpose of government, which is ensuring the protection of individual rights") and the application ("public legal aid is instrumental").

(May 22 '15 at 11:50) anthony anthony's gravatar image

And I still think it's perfectly compatible with my original statement: "If it doesn't have to be done by the government because non-government entities can do it, then it shouldn't be done by the government."

In fact, I feel that my original statement is logically equivalent to your statement. Your statement: "the government should only engage in activity that are instrumental to achieving the legitimate purpose of government" vs my statement (slightly reworded) "the government should not engage in activity that it doesn't have to engage in because non-government entities can do it instead".

(May 22 '15 at 11:50) anthony anthony's gravatar image

In fact, it's probably that exact answer that I was thinking of when I said, "I seem to remember other hypotheticals where people on here have said exactly that - that the government should not get into businesses which compete with private companies."

Vaguely recalling your statement, "the private market can provide the activities much more efficiently. Thus, having the government perform the activities is simply wasteful. Third, some activities, although innocuous on their face, may create a conflict of interests or perverse incentives for the government. . ."

(May 22 '15 at 11:53) anthony anthony's gravatar image

The only question, and in fact the one I proposed in my very first comment, is "why can't non-government entities provide these services? Why can't (the company formerly known as) Blackwater do it?"

There still may be a valid answer to that. Personally, I'm somewhat ambivalent about it, because on the one hand, it does involve the retaliatory use of force, but on the other hand, it involves the use of force outside the jurisdiction of the United States (and, in fact, in at least the least controversial instances, with permission of the sovereign government which does have jurisdiction).

(May 22 '15 at 11:58) anthony anthony's gravatar image

By the way, from your answer we have another example of an activity which could properly be performed by government (1), and which could properly be performed by private corporations or individuals: legal defense services.

And if you asked me if it is okay for the government to provide legal defense services for profit, my answer would be no. Would yours?

(1) Though I'd suggest implementing it through court-appointed counsel (who voluntarily agreed to the appointment and payment agreement) rather than through government employees, to minimize conflict-of-interest concerns.

(May 22 '15 at 12:07) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Why can't each department handle its own budgeting and fundraising?

I never said they could not.

You believe that "budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies" is instrumental, don't you?

Instrumental means crucial, right? Instrumental means necessary, right? If I can come up with a different way of doing things, which is just as good, and which doesn't involve something, then that something wasn't instrumental, right?

(May 22 '15 at 12:12) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If it is proper for each "department" (police, military, courts) to have perform activity X (say, accounting for their funds)

In capitalism, government doesn't have any funds.

(May 22 '15 at 12:13) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Are you asserting that the government cannot own anything? I cannot agree with that. The government can own property, for example, if it purhcases the property from a private citizen.

Do you disagree with Peikoff in this podcast question? http://www.peikoff.com/2008/08/04/in-ayn-rands-definition-of-capitalism-she-says-that-all-property-is-privately-owned-is-that-really-true/

Furthermore, money that is voluntarily donated to the government or exchanged with the government for a service is then owned by the government.

Thus the relevance.

Who else would own it?

Listen to the podcast.

(May 22 '15 at 12:22) anthony anthony's gravatar image

You confuse me my friend. You continue to maintain that "if a private entity can do it, the government is forbidden to do it" (paraphrasing), and yet then agree with me that it would be okay for the government to provide legal aid services even though a private entity could do it.

(May 28 '15 at 11:27) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

In fact, I feel that my original statement is logically equivalent to your statement. Your statement: "the government should only engage in activity that are instrumental to achieving the legitimate purpose of government" vs my statement (slightly reworded) "the government should not engage in activity that it doesn't have to engage in because non-government entities can do it instead".

This proposition denies the possibility that something can be both (1) instrumental to acheiving the legitimate purpose of government, and (2) capable of being performed by a non-government entity.

(May 28 '15 at 11:30) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

In other words, you appear to hold that {capable of being performed by non-government entity} and {instrumental to acheiving legit gov. purpose} are mutually exclusive categories. I deny this.

(May 28 '15 at 11:33) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

You believe that "budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies" is instrumental, don't you?

I do. However, you miss my point. My point is that it doesn't matter if the proper government function of budgeting/fund disbursement is handeled centrally by one department that specializes in this activity, or if it is handeled peicemeal by each department seperately. Either way, the government is doing it. Thus, your question of "Why can't each department handle its own budgeting and fundraising?" does not rebut my assertion that it is a proper gov. function.

(May 28 '15 at 11:37) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

Instrumental means crucial, right? Instrumental means necessary, right? If I can come up with a different way of doing things, which is just as good, and which doesn't involve something, then that something wasn't instrumental, right?

No.

Instrumental means "serving as a means; helpful (in bringing something about)". Websters Third College Edition (1988).

(May 28 '15 at 11:42) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

As for Peikoff's podcast answer, I have listened to it, and I do not find it persuasive. That, however, is not the point of this question so I will not go into it further in these comments.

(May 28 '15 at 11:51) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

You continue to maintain that "if a private entity can do it, the government is forbidden to do it" (paraphrasing)

I continue to maintain that if a private entity can do it instead of the government, then the government should not do it.

(May 28 '15 at 13:04) anthony anthony's gravatar image

This proposition denies the possibility that something can be both (1) instrumental to acheiving the legitimate purpose of government, and (2) capable of being performed by a non-government entity.

It denies the possibility that something can be both (1) instrumental to achieving the legitimate purpose of government, and (2) capable of being performed by a non-government entity instead of by the government.

(May 28 '15 at 13:05) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Instrumental means "serving as a means; helpful (in bringing something about)". Websters Third College Edition (1988).

By that definition of instrumental, I don't agree that being instrumental is sufficient.

Pretty much anything can be helpful. To be a legitimate function of government, it must be necessary/crucial. There is at least one sense of "instrumental" which means necessary/crucial, and that's the sense in which I was using the term. I could pull out a dictionary, and show that this sense is not one that is unique to me, but I don't think that really matters.

(May 28 '15 at 13:08) anthony anthony's gravatar image

As for Peikoff's podcast answer, I have listened to it, and I do not find it persuasive. That, however, is not the point of this question so I will not go into it further in these comments.

It invalidates your examples of "collecting government revenue" and "managing budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies".

(May 28 '15 at 13:12) anthony anthony's gravatar image

It invalidates your examples of "collecting government revenue" and "managing budgeting and disbursement of funds to other government agencies".

If correct, perhaps. But it is wrong, so it does no such thing.

(May 28 '15 at 14:16) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

It denies the possibility that something can be both (1) instrumental to achieving the legitimate purpose of government, and (2) capable of being performed by a non-government entity instead of by the government.

I do not see the distinction you are trying to draw here. Lets return to the simple example of legal aid since we appear to agree here at least on the outcome, if not the method of reaching the outcome (i.e., that it is proper for the government to provide the service). It is possible for a private entity to provide legal aid instead of by the government.

(May 28 '15 at 14:19) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

I do not see how adding "instead of by the government" changes anything.

(May 28 '15 at 14:20) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

If correct, perhaps.

And that's why it's relevant.

(May 29 '15 at 00:57) anthony anthony's gravatar image

It is possible for a private entity to provide legal aid instead of by the government.

Not if you want to have a fair trial under the adversary system and no private entity is willing to provide the legal aid.

Actually, forget about the part about "under the adversary system." Under any system, in order to have a fair trial, the government must provide legal aid to those who can't obtain it otherwise. Maybe the judge could be the one providing the legal aid, but someone has to do it. The system is too complicated otherwise.

(May 29 '15 at 00:59) anthony anthony's gravatar image

I guess I should add that there is a sense in which a private entity would provide legal aid, and that is that certain lawyers (and/or law firms) voluntarily agree to represent indigent clients in exchange for getting paid. If that's possible, and it seems it is as this is how it works today in some jurisdictions, then this is the way things should be done.

But to my mind, that's what's meant by legal aid being provided by the government. Obviously it's actual human beings that are going to actually provide the legal aid. Whether they're employees or independent contractors, I don't know.

(May 29 '15 at 01:15) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Rand identified the fact that "the protection of individual rights is the only proper purpose of a government." Securing individual rights creates the conditions necessary for men to live together as neither masters nor slaves, but as traders in the broadest sense.

In exploring the nature of rights, Rand found the signature of a rights violation: the initiation of physical force, whereby someone imposes his own judgment on another rather than leaving him free to choose his own peaceful actions. Hence her emphasis:

"The proper functions of a government fall into three broad categories, all of them involving the issues of physical force and the protection of men’s rights: the police, to protect men from criminals—the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders—the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws."

Notice that these "proper functions" flow from the purpose of a proper government, in that they each name a fairly general institutional means of securing rights against a broad source of potential violations. Could there be other proper functions of government in this sense? That would naturally entail an additional source of common rights-violations beyond those threatened by criminals, hostile governments, and the accidental offenses of others. I'm not aware of any such source, but Objectivists aren't dogmatists and if one were realized then devising some institutional means of securing innocents against the additional class of threats would of course be warranted.

Notice also that a "function" in this sense is not the same thing as an "activity." In enacting these institutional means to securing rights, of course there will be many activities and arrangements that support one or more of any or all of those functions. The key to determining whether any given activity of a government is proper is to ask: Does it involve the violation of rights? If so, then it is improper. If not, then ask: Is it needed in the support or implementation of a proper function of government? If so, then it is proper.

It's all about securing rights.

answered May 21 '15 at 16:27

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦
1002425618

edited May 22 '15 at 14:29

Thank you for your answer. I agree in every respect.

(May 22 '15 at 10:01) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

The key to determining whether any given activity of a government is proper is to ask: Does it involve the violation of rights? If so, then it is improper. If not, then ask: Is it needed in the support or implementation of a proper function of government? If so, then it is proper

Note that this principle, which I completely agree with, is not compatable with the principle asserted in other comments and answers to other questions that "if a non-government entity could perform a given activity, then it is ipso-facto improper for the government to perform that activity."

(May 22 '15 at 10:03) ericmaughan43 ♦ ericmaughan43's gravatar image

FWIW, I agree 100% with Greg's answer, and believe that Greg's answer is compatible with the statement, "If it doesn't have to be done by the government [i.e. if it is not necessary] because non-government entities can do it, then it shouldn't be done by the government."

(May 22 '15 at 10:40) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Is there any role for a legislature in a proper government? After all, Congress does not enforce laws, interpret laws, or protect us from foreign agressors.

(Jun 18 '15 at 13:09) James James's gravatar image

Hi, James. Since enforcement and interpretation of laws depends on having laws to enforce and interpret, there is an inescapably crucial role for a legislature: We need an institution to make, change, and repeal laws because a complete and timelessly perfect body of law does not (and cannot) exist ready-made for us to use.

(Jun 18 '15 at 16:56) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

To a certain extent judges will change and repeal laws (it's one role of the Supreme Court, for example).

To go a bit more abstract: Why have laws at all? Rights are, more or less, complete and timelessly perfect (our understanding isn't, necessarily). The role of the judge would shift from "Did you violate the law?" to "Did you violate someone's rights?" And we certainly don't need a legislature to determine what rights we have (see Obamacare)!

(Jun 22 '15 at 10:13) James James's gravatar image

The concept of having laws seems deeply rooted in the concept of an dictatorial monarchy--basically, a list of things that we must or must not do, because the government says so. The Constitution attempted to make the process less arbitrary, but fundamentally laws still seem to assume the government owns the populace. I'm wondering if a focus on rights would alter that. At the very least, ti would shift our thinking about the topic (sorry, not enough room here to describe what I mean adequately!).

(Jun 22 '15 at 10:16) James James's gravatar image
1

Why not ask that as a new question?

(Jun 22 '15 at 11:22) Greg Perkins ♦♦ Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

I'd also recommend reading http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/law,_objective_and_non-objective.html (maybe before asking that as a new question). The first excerpt is from The Nature of Government which is available for free online at https://ari.aynrand.org/issues/government-and-business/individual-rights

(Jun 22 '15 at 17:02) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: May 20 '15 at 13:16

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Last updated: Jun 22 '15 at 17:05