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Chapter 7: Government Activities


The initial exploration of the term public stops short of saying what I say about activity in Proposition VII, namely that any person, thing, or activity might be a matter of public interest, the center of the public. You might, however, say it's a corollary of the Proposition inasmuch as whatever government does is public.


This brings to mind the remarkable quotation about the growth of nongovernmental security police. Would it be possible to contract out all the police activities of a country?

This again suggests that the class could be challenged to suggest a kind of event or activity that could not become a public affair. Then ask whether there is any public activity that might not become non-governmental.


Here was have some extreme examples. The Swiss, of course, require every citizen in good standing to store arms in his house. The U.S.S.R. sells dry goods. (Actually the biggest dry goods outfit and notion operation in the world was at one time the U.S. Army PX.) General Sherman, after getting through with raising hell in the south and justifying his activities by the famous quotation, "All war is hell," moved north by west where, in the fights against the Indians, he ordered buffalo exterminated so that the Indians would not have a food supply. Americans who are used to crossing boundaries in their search for nirvana have had occasion to observe that different nations require different haircuts. And miniskirts have kept some young girls from going to church. Admiral Zumwalt, as I write these lines, is under fire for being too lenient in permitting different kinds of haircuts in the Navy. A friend who took a French invasion craft from Algiers to join us in the invasion of southern France during World War II, told us with some embarrassment and humor that his ship had contained any number of women, whom he had in his American innocence addressed as "nurse," who turned out to be prostitutes along as companions for the French colonial troops aboard. Assassination is usually political or religious or face-saving, and is sometimes common enough to bring forward professional assassins. You may recall that the term itself comes from the secret Mohammedan sect of the eleventh century and is from the Arabic meaning "a taker of hashish." (Don't tell the Narcs about this!) Exterminating weaklings as a matter of public policy has been a practice of many cultures, not all of them at a low level of civilization. The destruction of fine art, usually termed heathen idols and images, has been practiced by various noble religions.


The dimensions of government activity called for here are unavailable not only to the public, but also to Congressmen and the leaders of the executive branch themselves. A half-dozen years have passed since a group of political scientists recommended that congressmen keep themselves informed on a computerized basis regarding the elementary activities of the government: Nothing has yet been done.

I do believe that students profit from handling the budget and budget supplement documents of the national government; the library is bound to have a half-dozen past issues that can be put on reserve for this purpose. They can see at first hand how enormous the volume is--and how little is said bout the activities within the volume.


This newspaper item poses a dilemma that might be discussed. Would students assert that the needed credit rules should not be promulgated or enforced by the government? Are they rules that Congress might properly draw up if it were organized well?

Coming up, on pages 267-70, are suggestions for a form of representation. Here, or when the time comes, you might ask whether a form of representation might be designed that would do a better job than the Federal Trade Commission, which is appointed by the President with the approval of the Senate. Maybe this is the place to introduce the theme that American government is really not representative in a day-to-day sense at all, given the Supreme Court's huge powers of intervention and the numerous rule-making agencies.


It is often said that much of bureaucracy consists of people servicing each other rather than an outside clientele. The first table might substantiate this claim. The second table might suggest the following proposition: Although most people have a heavy emotional and moral involvement in government, most of what government does has very little to do with morality or love.


Here I suggest another sweeping proposition: Governments should use every known means of manipulating people. There is a lot more fuss over the issue of capital punishment, which certainly represents a basic moral principle, than there is about all the other ways of getting people to follow the governmental will. Scholars and legislators have done very little to organize, classify, and study the different effects of the many means of directing activity.


Because governments tend to be coercive, rigid, and centralized, government activity should be assumed with caution, surrounded by protection, and dissolved with enthusiasm. The opposite is also true.

Once upon a time Principle VII and Policy VII would have been looked upon as a kind of mossback conservatism. Today, you may have noticed, the New Left are more royal than the king in this regard. Yet their combined untargeted fire of right and left has not been of great help in reducing governmental activity. Someone has told me that the only activities the government has dropped are three: it no longer distills rum in the Virgin Islands; it does not stable stallions for breeding cavalry horses; and the Boston Rope Factory of the Navy has been closed. I have not checked to be sure.


The proposal here made for a tribune to help devolve government is the best proposal I have been able to imagine up to this point. Perhaps the name countervalor would be preferable.


On page 255, the answers for the first column are F, B, and A, for the second column, E, G, and H. On page 256, they are C and D.

Fitting examples to the abstract principles is not easy. As they stand, their language is so far removed from the students' concerns that another set might have been better. The first example (F), for instance, might be replaced by a comment on the Greek matches I buy. The government has always had a monopoly on their manufacture and sale, so they should be both cheap and good, especially since all the population and the mass of tourists think something of the government whenever a match misses fire. But the matches are abominable.

The second (B) might remark on the public universities of America. They contain many thousands of students whose parents might readily pay five times as much tuition per year as they do, and yet they benefit equally with poor students. The third (A) might consider that courthouses are generally far removed from the population and surrounded by intimidating features and point out that most trials could be conducted in unused schoolrooms at night.

In the right hand column, the first example (E) might say that the general treasuries of nation and state pay the costs of recreation facilities that only nearby residents or well-to-do visitors from afar can afford to use. G might repeat the citations of the Boston Rope Factory and other examples above. The final principle on page 255 calls to may mind the contradictory tax policies of the government: All too often they impose a heavy tax burden, through the sales tax and other levies, on people who are already on government welfare.

In regard to the first example for page 256, one wonders what proportion of federal employees, including many in the Defense Department, might be relieved of their uniforms without hampering the performance of their duties. The last principle deserves the remark that a continuous and powerful campaign has to be maintained by the press, public activists, attorneys, and legislators in order to get some idea of the amount of wiretapping that government officials are engaging in.


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