The proper functions of governance
I haven’t been writing much new “serious” stuff lately. This is mainly because I’ve been going over what I’ve written in the last couple of years, trying to fix some inconsistencies and clarify things that didn’t come over quite right. In the process, I’ve written six new, or substantially revised, sections. I’ll try to publish them over the next week or so. Here’s the first.
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The first step towards solving the political problems we face today, I think, must be to understand what the valid functions of government (or, as I prefer to call it, governance) actually are. In my view, proper governance has a total of six functions; three principal and three subsidiary.
The first function of governance is to maintain peace. This includes the defence of the governed against external attack or internal violence.
The second function of governance is to deliver justice. This function includes the just resolution of disputes. Justice, as I put forward earlier, is the condition in which every individual, over the long term, in the round and as far as practicable, is treated as he or she treats others. And governance must be fair, objective and meticulous in all its decisions.
The third function of governance is defence of the rights of those who respect others’ rights. Those rights, as I discussed earlier, include fundamental rights like life, property and privacy; and rights of non-impedance, such as freedom of speech, religion and association.
All these three principal functions of governance can be seen as different aspects of a single whole. Namely, the delivery of peace and justice to all individuals.
There are further functions of governance which, while not as important as the first three, are nevertheless necessities. The fourth is co-ordination of the building of infrastructure. This is needed because, although infrastructure must be created and maintained at the local level, some degree of co-ordination is required to ensure that the infrastructure forms a coherent whole. For example, that a new road doesn’t suddenly dead-end at some arbitrary community border. But these functions must always be delivered and paid for in a way that is just towards every individual.
The fifth function is the maintenance of good relations with other, friendly communities.
The sixth and final function of governance is quality control of itself. It must maintain a constant ethical watch on the actions of governance as a whole, and of the individuals who constitute it. It must assure that the functions of governance are being performed as they should be. That those whose job is to maintain peace are indeed doing so to the best of their abilities. That the justice system is, and remains, just, objective and fair to everyone. That no-one in governance violates the rights of innocent people. That any decisions governance needs to make on behalf of those under it are made objectively, fairly, and taking into account the costs and benefits to every individual or group. And that governance – including the quality assurance function! – keeps meticulous and publicly accessible audit trails of all it does, and of the reasons behind every decision it makes.
In my view, these six are the valid functions, and the only valid functions, of governance. It is not a function of governance to impose any particular political or religious ideology. It is not a function of governance to try to cure perceived social ills. It is not a function of governance to pick winners and losers, or to re-distribute wealth from one group of people to another. And it is not a function of governance to provide education, or insurance, or any other good or service which can be effectively provided by individuals and groups in the free market.