Proper functions of government

Returning to the Constitution 2.0 theme, and I realized that while citizenship is an important concept, an even more important one is the philosophy of government: what powers should it have and why?

So, looking at the current Constitution, I see the following themes:
National Security and Foreign Policy: The Federal government deals with anything external to the country
Inter- and Trans-State Affairs: States are explicitly forbidden from forming compacts or agreements without Congressional approval.
Basic Infrastructure: Roads, Post Office, and Money. Note: this includes ability to tax.
Setting minimal governmental standards for states (i.e. each state must be a republic).
Setting internal standards (voting requirements, qualifications, and the like).

And those themes appear to be it. Amendments 9 and 10 are supposed to reserve all rights other than those granted to the Federal government to the States or People. Now of course, things have ballooned outwards with express and implied powers, and then stretching implied powers more and more. Specifically, I do not see a basis for any national welfare (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.), but I am sure there are others.

So: should the government have more powers than the kinds I’ve noted above? Are those too broad and need to be constrained? For those of you around the world, what powers does your countries’ governments have that do not really fall into the above categories? Should we have them here? If so, why?

As long as we’re doing a thought experiment, we might as well look at first principles and see if we want to keep them or change, and why in either case. Comment away!

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6 Responses to Proper functions of government

  1. dumbasdirt says:

    Certain professionals should be limited/restricted by government along with the government. Primarily the license to practice law. If they take away from the countries infrastructure they should be banned. A minimal government std for the good of the nation….

  2. Xpat says:

    Nice contributions, DJ.

    I am only informally versed on Japanese govt., but it would probably be useful to think of it as one big state with a bunch counties rather than one big republic with a bunch of states. So, laws will vary only slightly from area to area and you won’t find one prefecture with a different marriage age or drinking age, etc. I don’t know if that’s bad or good in Japan’s case–more like, inevitable. The story of Japan could arguably be summed up as a gradual consolidation of national/political/cultural unity, to prevent perpetual war between regions and clans. Kind of like that old Star Trek episode (“A Piece of the Action”) where there’s a planet run in the style of a 20s style gangland. The US doesn’t really have that particular kind of history, except for the Civil War, and even that was not really the same kind of thing.

    Of course, the state or regional “individualism” of the US is one of its huge strengths.

    • D.J. says:

      Well, Japan is a far more homogeneous society than the US is. On the other hand, the US is for more homogeneous than, say, the EU. Probably due to immigrants selecting to become part of the culture rather than maintaining their own at all costs throughout most of the country’s history.

      • Xpat says:

        Forgot to mention–duh!–that the Japanese constitution now is a post WWII one with (to put it mildly) some US influence. I think it has worked out well, but I’d hardly call the present gov. an organic outgrowth of Japanese historical experience, which my comment above might have suggested. And I may even have been thinking it, too, in addition to saying it!

        See? It’s so much better for me to say my weirded-out stuff down in Comments rather than up in a post.

        • Mountainbear says:

          1947 (1946 respectively). Yep.

          The old Japanese constitution, from the Meiji times, was following Prussian ideas very closely. It was Prussia, and then the united Germany under Prussia, that had very strong infuences on Japan after the restoration. I would say that Prussia had the strongest influence, except in anything naval, where Britain dominated, of course.

          The Meiji restoration is interesting because, for example, it allowed freedom of speech only within the limits of the law, and that remained unchanged until 1947. The government could crack down on any movement with a couple of laws. As Japan sank into militarism and fascism this became more and more common. There were several so called “peace preservation laws” which were used to literally eliminate political opponents. There was a short spark of democracy and freedom in the Taisho era, but once it went into Showa things got ugly very fast. It was so bad that, when the air raids on Tokyo happened and Hirohito was worried about a left wing uprising, there was effectively no left wing left to rise up. Most of these people had simply “disappeared”.

          The post-war constitution has done a good job, but I’ve been saying that it needs to be revised in some parts for quite a while now. Especially article 9 has no room in this world. It’s outdated and pointless. The left wing in Japan is always like “article 9 protects us all!” No it doesn’t. The American shield and the Japanese military (and I always use that term on purpose, even in Japanese where I always say “gun” 軍) are the ones protecting the freedom in Japan. Article 9 is paper and paper has never stopped anyone. Guns, on the other hand, are known to do that.

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