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Government’s role: to protect the minority from the majority

Defending the rights and freedoms of the individual is what government’s job is. Administering justice when those rights are infringed upon is what government’s job is.

I was bothered by the assertion of a published commentary piece this week ("Government's role: It's primarily about the needs of people, not business") that blasts business as “unavoidably selfish. … It concerns itself only with its own welfare.” Continuing, “… in a world in which business takes no responsibility for people as people." This piece led with a caption quote that “Government’s job is to help people.” The author is confusing charity with government, compassion with obligation, and liberty with fascism.

Chris Holbrook

Helping people is the job of charity. Defending the rights and freedoms of the individual is what government’s job is. Administering justice when those rights are infringed upon is what government’s job is. Forcing compliance and participation in a collective empathy is not what government’s job is.

Read Thomas Paine. “Some have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.”

The Supreme Court has ruled multiple times that the word "person" in the 14th Amendment extends to a person’s corporation. (recently 2010 Citizens United v. FEC; 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby). To say people’s businesses have no interest in “the common good, society at large, and transcendent morality beyond their own mission and bottom line” is a falsehood and an insult. Businesses are people and are made of people who care about and tend to all of those things.

Businesses take care of society. They employ people, giving them resources to purchase food and shelter. They educate people with jobs programs. They make society efficient and convenient with technological innovations. They create products and services that we need, desire, and voluntarily consume. They create wealth for investors, including the average worker's 401(k) account. They support and fund charity.

Government has been an obstacle to people and people’s business supporting charity and society. Whether it was President Barack Obama’s proposed reduction in charitable deductions from 39 percent to 28 percent in 2015, or Trump’s somewhat similar and current effort to cap charitable deductions, the best option to strengthen private foundations and public nonprofits to benefit society would be for government to stop weakening the incentives to do so.

If we use the people’s government to force restrictions and limitations upon the people and their businesses and their choices (unless they infringe upon or directly harm individuals) then we risk turning the common good into coerced collectivism, which is the definition of fascism (see Merriam Webster), flying in the face of the liberty our government should be defending.

Chris Holbrook, of St. Paul, is the chair of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota.

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Comments (14)

"Businesses take care of society."

No, they don't. Businesses exist to make money for their owners. If society should gain some benefit from that, fine, but that is not the purpose of the business.

Many businesses make money while ravaging the environment and/or exploiting workers. Society is just collateral damage.

Well stated Mr. Holbrook.

We have turned to collectivism (sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly) over the past 100 years here in the USA. Collectivism flies in the face of our constitution which is designed to ensure freedom for the individual from Government. With the Government getting involved in our retirement savings with Social Security, our health with Medicaid, Medicare and now Obamacare, what kind of cars we drive (CAFE standards), how we heat or cool our homes (war on coal, push for green energy), how our children are taught (or not taught) with Dept of Education and 100 other programs that fly in the face of how our Forefathers felt we should live, things have truly changed. It is time to scale back big intrusive Govt but unfortunately we are so far down the socialist/collectivist road it is hard to do!

How Our Forefathers Thought We Should Live

Let's pass over the fact that our "forefathers' did not speak with a unified voice on "how we should live." Let's also pass over the fact that they lived in a nation where slavery was legal and women were denied basic human rights. We can also put to one side the fact that the forefathers lived and worked in a nation that was essentially a collection of villages along the Eastern Seaboard, with travel between them limited to the occasional highway, or slow waterborne transportation.

Actually, we can't put that aside. Taking the nation's founding documents as anything more than a general outline is an absurdity. Our forefathers, if they did speak with a unified voice, probably would find it laughable that they wrote a blueprint for day-to-day governance to be followed over 200 years later.

Predicting what figures from the past would think about contemporary issues is, at best, an amusing parlor game. We are all products of our own Zeitgeist, so trying to decide what George Washington would have thought of the Affordable Care Act is pointless. Even so, it's had to resist quoting Thomas Jefferson on our pals, the corporations: "“I hope we shall crush… in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations, which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”"

Businesses are not people.

Forgive me - I'm not a corporate lawyer - but prior to the Scalia court's interpretation, which I found misguided, corporations were not considered persons, with all the same Constitutional rights of citizens, but facsimiles thereof with specific rights of their own. Correct? Citizens United and Hobby Lobby conferred on corporations rights that only individuals should have. If companies continue to be given the same rights as individuals, what prevents them from voting? From running for office?

And the idea that businesses are simply good and wholesome, their leaders having only the best interests of citizens and their own employees at heart, is objectively false. Most anyone reading this can name half a dozen companies that have done terrible things in the last decade or two, from the airlines to Wells Fargo to Peanut Corporation of America to Enron to the financial companies that KNOWINGLY caused the crash of 2008. A friend of mine who recently retired from 3M kept his impending retirement a secret, because the company has a known tendency to find ways to fire or lay off employees just months prior to their retirements.

I've heard over the years that St. Paul has strict and costly regulations for restaurants. But I can go into any restaurant in St. Paul and feel secure that I'm spending my money in an environment that is clean and safe and that the staff are knowledgable about food safety and the facilities are not dangerous. Without those regulations in place, I would spend my money elsewhere.

There is almost nothing in the fifth paragraph that is done by businesses that can't be done by government, as well. To paraphrase: "The state of Minnesota takes care of society. It employs people, giving them resources to purchase food and shelter. It educates people with schools and universities and jobs programs. It makes society efficient and convenient with technological innovations developed in its schools. It creates services that we need, desire, and voluntarily consume. It create wealth for investors, including the average worker's 401(k) account." Companies do all of this, too, but to deny that government can and should do so, for various employees, is to deny America's long, successful history of mixing socialized policies with capitalistic ones.

I'm a capitalist, and I appreciate businesses and support local ones over big chains. I buy stuff. I sell stuff. I'm also an employee of the state. And the reality is that money I'm given by the state for the services I provide our community pretty much ALL goes back into the community when I pay my mortgage, buy gas, go out to eat, buy groceries, get shoes for my kids, etc. etc. etc.

Finally, I recently read an answer to a query at the website Quora which pointed out that historically, there has never been a world power, a successful nation, which didn't have a strong government. Ever. Governments do things like protect their citizens from foreign invasion, maintain their infrastructure so that businesses and individuals can thrive, and guard the valuable financial assets and intellectual properties of the companies in their borders. Luckily, we have the power in the U.S. to restrain government overreach AND to ask government to restrain corporate overreach, as well. We have to power to balance those out.

"Helping people is the job of charity"

I am on the board of directors of a small, church-related charitable foundation that gives grants to non-profits that help the homeless and provide job training for youth.

There are many dedicated people operating creative and effective charities in our communities. Since the foundation can't give away all its assets at once and has an annual budget for grants, the board members have to make difficult choices.

Not one of our grantees could survive on charitable contributions alone, and they are all frustrated at not being able to help everyone who needs it.

There are plenty of affluent people in the Twin Cities, judging from the type of housing that is being built and sold, but not enough of them have hearts large enough to give significant amounts to unglamorous charities unless they receive a tax break.

Furthermore, as many have argued, government programs actually subsidize businesses that profit off the backs of underpaid workers. The non-disabled, non-elderly, non-child recipients of SNAP benefits are almost all working for employers who don't pay them enough to live on. (I'm looking at YOU, WalMart, owned by billionaire siblings who would still be billionaires if they paid their workers twice what they currently pay.)

I suggest you go around and meet some of the people who run these charities and find out exactly how much of their funding comes from private contributions and how much comes from local, state, and federal government sources.

Defending the rights and freedoms of the individual is what gove

I would argue that I am less free if having a sick child bankrupts me, if education is unaffordable, or I am at the whims of my employer because the alternative to working is starving to death. My vision of freedom is me being able to reach my potential regardless of family income, sex, race, city, or state I am born into. That is a just society to me, and government might not be perfect but a government by the people is better able to provide that justice than some libertarian utopia. The people at the top will always try to horde opportunity to themselves and without the government to balance things out the people have no voice.

Off base and way out of context

Thomas Paine was born in England in 1739 and came to America when he was 35 years old which means his views and rage regarding the tyranny and oppression of government stemmed from and were all about the Monarchies of Europe:

"Monarchy was the prevalent form of government in the history of Europe throughout the Middle Ages . . . Republicanism became more prevalent in the Early Modern period (1500 to 1800), but monarchy remained predominant in Europe during the 19th century. Since the end of World War I, however, most European monarchies have been abolished."

In a nutshell, the form of government Thomas Paine was so passionately opposed to was the one in which the King had ultimate (and "Divinely ordained") rule over EVERYthing and called all the shots. His relatives and friends -- the aristocracy -- owned and profited from ALL the real estate and "employed" all or most of the "common folk" who, essentially, got to eat a lot of dirt for hundreds of years under their rule.

Thomas Paine got in on the tail end of that, but THAT's the form of government he was referring to when he arrived here and became so politically active:

"Paine migrated to the British American colonies in 1774 with the help of Benjamin Franklin, arriving just in time to participate in the American Revolution. Virtually every rebel read (or listened to a reading of) his powerful pamphlet Common Sense (1776), proportionally the all-time best-selling American title, which crystallized the rebellious demand for independence from Great Britain."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Paine

To say or imply that what Thomas Paine was talking about is directly applicable to American DEMOCRACY and government (which he helped to shape in very fundamental ways) is, to put it generously and politely, a stretch, at best.

Before insulting Mark Stahura's perspective as "confusing charity with government, compassion with obligation, and liberty with fascism," I'd recommend the author take his own advice and do a little more reading to see what it was Thomas Paine was actually railing against and warning about.

If Paine were alive today I have no doubt he would agree wholeheartedly with the idea that government's role is to put the people's needs before those of business because:

A) That's what he was saying in the years just before the Revolution; and (spoiler alert)

B) corporations are on the verge of becoming America's new Monarchy (if they're not there already).

If the chairperson of the Libertarian Party of Minnesota is comfortable with wrapping his (and his party's?) political message in the brand of liberty Thomas Paine was calling for while, at the same time, equating the form of government Thomas Paine helped create with tyranny and fascism, that's his call. I wouldn't recommend it but, thanks in large part TO Thomas Paine, it's still a free country.

Clarification please ...

Isn't the Libertarian Party a party of limited government? Wouldn't a libertarian be against any deduction on charitable giving?

A 28% tax deduction allows a person to give more money to the non-profit. Stated another way, the government’s money is going to a non-profit. That seems anti-libertarian.

And I would say the government’s role is not to defend minorities but to give minorities the tools to defend themselves.

Then protect minorities.

Corporations by pushing guns into cities, terminate rights and liberties of individuals. Libertarians and others die from urban warfare. Also, I can not think of a time when my rights or liberties have been infringed by government health care for kids.

Should not the author

Be ensconced in "Galt's Gulch" by now? If not, why not?

Words are meaningless indications of intent, actions are far more prescriptive. Tell us Mr. Holbrook of all the societal ills solved by business, or by the charity you purport to maintain. Has hunger ended, has homelessness been abolished, is drug abuse on the wane, has poverty ceased, is education available to all, at the highest levels of quality, is the environment pristine, has domestic violence abated, or perhaps calamitous illness has been wiped out in all its permutations? Surely, given the momentous amount of influence you ascribe to the twin wonders the market and the business conducted within it, all these issues and more should be no more than forgotten memories by now, nearly 250 years into our grand national experiment.

Of course the fact that none are is not, as the author might suggest, evidence of some grand plot by government, to subdue the righteous influence of capitalism to affect change in these areas. Its rather the opposite, captialism's natural consequence of creating a massive underclass of working poor(and all the societal ills that poverty brings forth) being so powerful that the mitigating impact of government is simply not enough to counteract its force.

Libertarianism is simply a byproduct of plenty, it does not exist in eras, or areas, where resources are scarce. It is luxurious thinking, for times when all that is needed to live is easily obtained, and when some feel a measure of status needs to be created. It fulfills the basal simian nature of hierarchical dominance that some members of our species have yet to cast aside.

Generous

You're being generous as to what libertarianism is. Very, very charitable.

Almost every libertarian I've met has been an under-40 white male, or their wife or girlfriend. I add the latter two because in every case I've met a female libertarian it was in the "me too" style, not independent thinking. And, in every case, the under-40 white male came from an above-average income family while believing they worked harder than they actually did to be (somewhat) successful. They come from a level of self absorption and privilege that they can't even see that their "successes" were mostly a forgone conclusion based on their birth into the right class, race, and gender.

I submit that libertarianism does, indeed, exist in areas where resources are scarce, but only among the elite. There is no society in this world that does not have its elite, often at the deliberate expense of everyone else. To the extent that it doesn't exist in some places, it's only because libertarianism tries to put a pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-refined shine on something that looks like barbarism in places where no need for such niceties exist.

Libertarian thinking seems so limited

It was difficult to read this entire article. I absolutely disagree with every single word.

I have never, and probably never will, understood Libertarian's theories? I don't understand why they feel the need to revile our government so much? Plus much of their 'approach to life' seems both angry, and based on individualism. Perhaps that applied briefly when most settlers lived on their own little homesteads, miles away form each other and completely dependent upon themselves to meet all of their own needs.

But I fail to see how it works nowadays, with close to 325 MILLION Americans, most living in close proximity to each other and sharing so many infrastructures (highways, schools, healthcare and more).

I am acutely aware that both the Koch Brothers and the Mercers, who shelled out million$ to buy and pay for Trump to be in the White House, expect something in return for their investment. That keeps me awake many nights.... But having a few wealthy types calling all of the shots and rigging the game to their advantage and ignoring the rules and laws and ending regulations and belittling--or even destroying--others is not the path to continued success for America. It is the path to fascism, however!

Fascism

I, too, disagree with every word of this essay. The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution states that a government is formed "to provide for the common welfare" of the citizens. Or perhaps Libertarians don't read the constitution of the government that they hate.
Fascism is exactly the rule of business over the politics of a country. Mr. Holbrook seems to know as little about the Third Reich as he knows about U.S. civics. The businesses in Germany in the 1930's and 1940's supported Hitler's Nazi Party. Hitler also supported them by giving them free rein over their employees. How that established the employees' freedom, Mr. Holbrook ignores.
Ronald Reagan expected charities to take over when he cut down the social safety net. Sadly, wealthy people didn't dig into their pockets to take up the slack. Studies done at the time showed that it was the poor and the nearly poor who gave the most, both in terms of absolute dollars and in terms of percentage of income.
Charity is also degrading and damaging to the self-esteem of those who are forced to accept it. Most would rather be eligible for a democratic program that was open to all than to have to beg at a church or nonprofit.
If this is a typical example of how Libertarians think, they are dangerous to the fabric of our society. We are fragmented enough in one of the most difficult periods in our country, without being torn into a dog-eat-dog existence.

Civics in and of itself !

[ Is it a big priority in American life anymore? ]

Defining and understanding the concept of "Civics" ===> Wikipedia gives a good, clear, and all-encompassing definition of the term: "Civics is the study of the theoretical, political and practical aspects of citizenship, as well as its rights and duties; the duties of citizens to each other as members of a political body and to the government. [Civics] includes the study of civil law and civil code, and the study of government with attention to the role of citizens as opposed to external factors in the operation and oversight of government."

In essence, civics consists of sociopolitical dichotomies in our sovereign existence.
~ There are Rights (privileges) and there are Duties (responsibilities).
~ There is Law and there is Order (which subsumes disorder).
But over-riding and reining in all of these fractious matters is a virtuous concept known as "Civility".

While the origins of civics are certainly ancient, its status globally today range from thriving to endangered to non-existent. Here, in the United States, Civics has been essential, and very relevant in the daily political life of citizens at least up until the mid 1970's. Post-Watergate, the country has been experiencing a serious sociological facelift. With the advancement of the information age thru technology, we have been reaping the benefits certainly of knowledge. But unfortunately, wisdom has eluded us because we have seriously neglected history and civics. And if even a case could be made to the contrary, the current political situation of America reflects unpleasant realities. We have evidence
that the fundamental principles of integrity and responsibility have been abandoned by people of means and power.

Sadly, the knowledge and practice of Civics in America today have turned out to be entirely different things. Civics has been diluted, polluted, and almost totally shorn of the essential pillars of its structure, namely civility and responsibility. Lately, bullies have been running amok everywhere. You see them in all levels and branches of Government (yes, including the Supreme Court), in the media, in church organizations, in businesses, and in the police forces.

Integrity, which is the consolidation of civility and responsibility, is a rarity these days. Furthermore, loyalty and patriotism hardly mean what they used to. We have a President who kowtows to a foreign power while disabusing the citizens of his own nation. We have politicians whose bottom line is "winning" by any and all means. The party in power wants to exclude the minority even from hearings or consulting sessions. But when things go wrong, responsibility is shirked by blaming the minority.

Everything is about negativity (opposition). Nothing is about sacrifice. Nothing is about science. Nothing is about the future. Everything is about "me,me,me!" Everything is about "now,now,now!"

We are where we are now because we have not pushed ahead with our respect for Civics, its study and practical application in all walks of life. We have forgotten that Civics is the bedrock of Freedom and that in turn is the essence of America.