Bridging the Great Divide, Part II: Key Components of Good Government

My last post offered some preliminary thoughts on why government is necessary. Here are a few more thoughts to continue the conversation. 

What are some of the key components of good government?

One of the most important government functions is maintaining the rule of law. Laws should reflect a concern for the general well-being of everyone and outline our responsibilities to one another as part of a political community. As such, they create clear boundaries for how people can live and work together peacefully.

Government also provides public goods—those basic goods and services that are beneficial to many people, meet significant needs, and are available to everyone equally. Most Americans are so accustomed to ready access to public goods and services that we overlook the ways in which government provides for our basic needs, public health, safety, and security. Government also helps sustain private institutions such as schools, churches, and families that are essential partners for building and maintaining a robust society.

Good government creates an environment in which most of its people will be able to thrive, but it also meets the basic needs of those who cannot care for themselves. Families, churches, and other community institutions have essential roles in caring for the needy. But these systems sometimes fail, and some problems and conditions are so deeply rooted in the structure of society that government is likely the last and best resource to address them. We call such services safety net programs because they provide an ultimate layer of protection for the most vulnerable in society, such as children, people with disabilities, and the elderly.

Another essential component of a well-functioning government is access to free markets, a term commonly used to describe the framework for private property and enterprise that allows businesses to prosper and innovate as they provide employment, goods, and services. At the same time, governments exercise the power to regulate, holding people and organizations accountable and establishing measures to safeguard citizens. All modern democracies recognize the need for upholding both free markets and a regulatory state, but nations differ significantly in how they strike this balance between these two essentials. This careful balancing act is the source of much political discussion (and party division).