Joss Delage

Proper role of the government on the Gulf Coast

312 posts in this topic

I think the title is self explanatory - given the current circumstances, what should be the role of a moral government? Search and rescue? Law enforcement only?

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Obviously you would want the government to try and save people's lives. This includes search and rescue. You also would want the government to bring law and order to the area, stopping things such as looting.

I think the biggest role of the government, especially after saving people, would be to maintain a secure environment in which rebuilding can flourish. This is, of course, the National and State level.

City Government, on the other hand, has a different problem. The cities need to figure out such things as: how to fix the roads, how to get water out of the city (New Orleans), how to defend against such problems in the future, how to dispose of waste, etc. I see no reason why they could not get aid from the Federal Government.

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I see no reason why they could not get aid from the Federal Government.

I am surprised that Bush did not send in Federal troops in mass as soon as the looting, shooting, and raping started. Obviously, the New Orleans and Louisiana governments were incompetent to protect or even help their citizens. In addition to the many people on welfare in New Orleans, there are many home and business owners, doctors, lawyers, and other productive people who were at the mercy of murderers and thugs.

I'm afraid that Bush was afraid of the criticism he would get from the left, the media, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton if he moved quickly, sending in troops with orders to shoot to kill. Bush also had to know that Louisiana government would fail. There are probably hundreds of Federal offices in New Orleans, including the FBI that were giving him input into the situation.

I don't blame the military at all. They are doing a great job. Bush was too slow to use his power to make things happen faster when local and state government (which is notoriously corrupt) failed to work.

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Obviously you would want the government to try and save people's lives.  This includes search and rescue.  You also would want the government to bring law and order to the area, stopping things such as looting.

The only proper role of government, at any level, is to protect individual rights from attacks by aggression and fraud. A hurricane is not an act of aggression or fraud. I see no justification for any government spending money rescuing individuals who are threatened by natural events. Another example is the case of the fools who climb mountains, get stuck in a blizzard, and then expect government to bail them out. Volunteers, if any, should rescue individuals caught in acts of nature.

Looting is an act of aggression and should therefore be stopped with gunfire or punished through the courts if the looters are caught.

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City Government, on the other hand, has a different problem.  The cities need to figure out such things as: how to fix the roads, how to get water out of the city (New Orleans), how to defend against such problems in the future, how to dispose of waste, etc.  I see no reason why they could not get aid from the Federal Government.

In this thread, the subject is what government, at various levels, should do. Why do you think that any government -- including a city government -- should be responsible for maintaining roads or disposing of waste matter?

I hold that in a laissez-faire society, government at all levels would be limited to protecting individuals from aggression and fraud -- not taking care of their waste-disposal problems.

Consequently I see no reason whatsoever for any money -- stolen or otherwise -- to flow from the U. S. federal government to lower forms of government. The only justification for using federal troops domestically is if the threat is to the nation or if it is local and the states are incapable of handling it themselves. That clearly was not the case with the Gulf Coast.

Even in the City of New Orleans, the city government's police force was quite capable physically of stopping the outburst of criminality. For example, police officers should have been instructed to kill all looters and other miscreants. Likewise police officers should have been allowed to organize armed citizens in each neighborhood, supervised by a police officer. This sort of step would go a long way toward suppressing the anarchy that erupted.

Laissez-faire is an ideal that applies to all governments and all levels of every government.

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[...]The only justification for using federal troops domestically is if the threat is to the nation or if it is local and the states are incapable of handling it themselves. That clearly was not the case with the Gulf Coast.

Even in the City of New Orleans, the city government's police force was quite capable physically of stopping the outburst of criminality. For example, police officers should have been instructed to kill all looters and other miscreants. Likewise police officers should have been allowed to organize armed citizens in each neighborhood, supervised by a police officer. This sort of step would go a long way toward suppressing the anarchy that erupted.

Going along with your example of New Orleans, the local police forces had the resources necessary to control the situation (as you say, physically capable). But they apparently did not do so (due to faulty management, I presume), which makes them ultimately incapable.

In such a case would you say it is proper for the federal government to send in its own forces, despite the fact that the local governments are physically capable?

~Aurelia

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In such a case would you say it is proper for the federal government to send in its own forces, despite the fact that the local governments are physically capable?

Based on the little information I have gotten from the mainstream media, in the last few years as well as the last few days, I chose the word "physically" to highlight the fact that they probably had enough manpower (including police reserves) and equipment to maintain order in some parts of the city. (News reports indicate that the French Quarter, which is where I lived many years ago, was dry.)

In contrast, the police department appears to have been philosophically incapacitated. I am unsure when, but up to a few years ago the New Orleans police department was so corrupt that they were operating under FBI supervision. New Orleans police officers were proven to be not only financially corrupt, but they were in some cases even killing witnesses against them.

There have been hints of another form of philosophical decay: The management of the police department seems to have been committed to a policy of "sensitivity" rather than ruthless justice -- on the street, if need be.

If anyone has information contradicting my memories from mainstream media reports over the last five or ten years, please tell me. (I lived in New Orleans 40 years ago, and then the corruption was financial and openly white-racist. White police officers terrified blacks. I saw that with my own eyes.)

Now, with that as background, I would say that if a town fails to maintain justice -- by protecting the basic rights to life, liberty and property -- then the responsibility goes up the ladder. In Louisiana, that would mean the parish (county) level, but New Orleans probably is the whole of one parish or more. So the next step would be to look to the state government: state police, police reserves from nearby towns (if not totally occupied in their own towns), and state units of the National Guard.

Only after that possibility was exhausted would I order federal troops into the city. And it wouldn't be to hand out water bottles. It would be to create safe corridors for volunteers, corridors to which good people could come. The military could then begin organizing a sort of militia. I have read several reports of U. S. military personnel training to train in enemy countries. That is what some Army personnel did in Afghanistan. They dropped into friendly locales and organized locals to harass the bad guys, thus cutting down on the number of troops needed.

So, yes, there are circumstances in which federal troops should be called in. But that still wouldn't justify opening federal spigots to provide welfare. That should be up to volunteers, as always.

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Burgess and others,

I've thought about this issue, discussed it with my friends, and haven't completely formulated my opinion. I'm open to arguments that the government has some function in disaster relief. For instance, it makes some sense that the government help pump the water out of the city, fix roads, etc. If there's 6 feet of water in the city, it makes it very difficult or impossible for the government to perform its valid functions. How can a police officer operate without power, water, gas, or means of transportation?

Also, in a disaster, many people go missing. It is valid for the government to help search for missing persons, because foul play could be involved. So, if they find a missing person on top of a house, surrounded by rising flood waters, dying of starvation, do they just leave him there? Tough call. This is admittedly a rather emotionalist example, it just gets me thinking.

Also, in our mixed government, the government has explicitly assigned itself the role of evacuators in times of emergency like Katrina. Since this is public knowledge, many less people are motivated to do private rescue operations. Considering this, and considering the government has already taken our money (including moeny from the people of New Orleans), I can see how one could argue that the government should act, and act quickly.

The issue of politics and ethics in natural disasters is interesting because they are emergency situations, of the kind Rand begs us not to use as the basis of politics and ethics. She's right, but emergencies still happen, and sometimes change the context of one's ethical decisions. For instance, I wouldn't hesitate to break into someone's abandoned house for food if I was stranded in a flood with my wife and kids. Several people did just that, and I understand they are not going to be prosectued in any way. This makes sense to me.

I'm playing the Devil's Advocate here a bit, because this side of the argument hasn't been presented yet. I'm not completely convinced by any of the above arguments, but it's given me something to think about.

--Dan Edge

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I'm open to arguments that the government has some function in disaster relief.  For instance, it makes some sense that the government help pump the water out of the city, fix roads, etc.  If there's 6 feet of water in the city, it makes it very difficult or impossible for the government to perform its valid functions.  How can a police officer operate without power, water, gas, or means of transportation?
Why exactly does it make some sense that the government help pump water instead of the private pumping companies doing so? Why exactly does it make some sense that the government fix roads instead of the owners of the roads doing so?

What exactly is your argument, since you have not made an explicit one?

You seem to suggest that a govt must provide its citizens with power, water, gas, and transportation, so that the government will also have those things. That is a non-sequitor. As you can see by evidence of the National Guard and the US Military, they have not had to provide the citizens of NO with an infrastructure in order to do their job. They have not had to rebuild the roads for the citizens of NO in order to "operate" and "perform its valid function". They have not had to provide the citizens of NO with power in order to "operate" and "perform its valid function". Etc Etc.

The point is, a govt does not have to be the provider of services in order to do its job as defender against force. Now - if that is not your argument, then you need to make your argument clear and explicit.

Also, in a disaster, many people go missing.  It is valid for the government to help search for missing persons, because foul play could be involved.
Actually, I would suggest that the proper job of government is not that of a finder of missing persons. It is true that the police may properly investigate specific instances of missing persons. But it may properly do so only in certain circumstances - specifically in circumstances where there is at least some evidence of possible foul play. The simple fact that Jane doesn't know where Bob is, is not evidence that someone has possibly initiated force against Bob. That is the logical fallacy of Appeal to Ignorance. More than a simply lack of knowledge about a person's whereabouts should properly be required before instigating a police investigation - ie an investigation into the possibility of the initiation of force.
Also, in our mixed government, the government has explicitly assigned itself the role of evacuators in times of emergency like Katrina.
You have switched context here. The thread specifically asks what is the "proper role" of government, not the 'expedient role', or 'pragmatic role, or 'likely role', or 'expected role', etc..
The issue of politics and ethics in natural disasters is interesting because they are emergency situations, of the kind Rand begs us not to use as the basis of politics and ethics.  She's right, but emergencies still happen, and sometimes change the context of one's ethical decisions.
You have not provided an argument as to why an emergency of this sort changes the nature of the proper role of government. You have simply implied that it does. Such an assertion is invalid without logical support.
Several people did just that, and I understand they are not going to be prosectued in any way.
What about those who broke into other's property and stole TVs instead of bread? Do you think they should be prosecuted? In other words, what principle are you using to excuse or allow particular forms of initiations of force? And how and why do you then logically apply this principle to government - as you have tried to do?
I'm playing the Devil's Advocate here a bit, because this side of the argument hasn't been presented yet.  I'm not completely convinced by any of the above arguments, but it's given me something to think about.
I would suggest you have not provided any arguments yet. You have merely made a few assertions that government should do more than protect against the initiation of force. Thus far, you have not provided any logical argument or support for these assertions.

(And I would also suggest that "this side of the argument" - ie that govt should do more than just defend against the initiation of force - has been made throughout history.)

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For instance, I wouldn't hesitate to break into someone's abandoned house for food if I was stranded in a flood with my wife and kids.  Several people did just that, and I understand they are not going to be prosectued in any way.  This makes sense to me.

Hmm... What prevents people from leaving a note and reimbursing people later?

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Brian,

You make a lot of good arguments there, especially with regard to missing persons and my dropping the context of the thread (What should a *proper* gov't do?). Keep in mind that I am not advocating gov't involvement in disaster relief, but I'm trying to think about the subject from different angles and chew on it a bit. It's my perspective that the onus of proof lies with he who asserts the gov't involvement. (There's gotta be a name for that princfiple :) ) This hasn't been proven to me in this case, so officially my position is that the government shouldn't be involved.

Natural disasters *are* emergency situations in many respects, so I don't want to make a snap judgement about all related ethical and political questions. It's worth considering seriously to avoid a possible error. I make this point because you were gettin' a little high-horse-y punk-y there. No sweat, we're pretty much on the same page.

Let's see....you demolished every idea I posited to support gov't involvement pretty well, except I think the point about the gov't supporting it's own transportation and services. That idea was only partly demolished :) Since we're already looking at emergency situations, let's suppose that the owners of the roads and the water pumping companies are out of comission in the short term. Their equipment was destroyed by the hurricane. The government needs to be able to move police cars and millitary trucks through the town in order to mantain order, but is unable to do so until the roads are fixed and the water is drained. I agree it would not be the responsibility of the gov't to fix roads they didn't need to use, but whether or not they repair the infrastructure they *do* need is a good question. The government hires private contractors for many valid purposes; could this be one?

I just thoght of another question: in a proper gov't system, who pays the "water pumping companies" to pump water out of the city? Road owners, private businesses in the area, a conglomeration of these? Just curious. In this case, so much money has been donated, it would probably be covered by the charity.

I *would* advocate government prosecution of those who steal TV's from adandoned homes during a natural disaster, but not for those who stole food, water, or other survival necessities, or those who broke into private property simply to get to higher ground. That said, I think a citizen could legally sue someone for food stolen during a disaster, but I can't imagine why someone would choose to do that. I like Joss's idea of leaving a note with a promise to repay.

I don't yet have a formal argument for why this kind of stealing is justified in disaster situations, but I'm pretty sure it's right. Anyone in an emergency situation like that who choses death for themselves and their family over breaking into someone's house for food, would be rationalistic and nuts.

--Dan Edge

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Brian,

A little off the topic, but I wanted to clarify something you said about missing persons. If Bob doesn't know where Jane is, and there's no good reason Jane should be un-findable to Bob for a lengthy period of time, this *is* evidence of possible foul play. In the case of the hurricane, though, your argument still stands, because there's a very good reason why people go missing besides foul play.

--Dan Edge

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This hasn't been proven to me in this case, so officially my position is that the government shouldn't be involved.
Okay :)
Natural disasters *are* emergency situations in many respects, so I don't want to make a snap judgement about all related ethical and political questions.
Yes, natural disasters can indeed be emergency situations. But for whom exactly? You have suggested it is an emergency for the government - and that the ethics of emergencies may apply to such government. However, you still have not identified how it is an emergency for the government (as opposed to the individual storm victim). Without explicitly identifying that principle and logically demonstrating how it applies to government, you will forever have a question in your mind about the role of government in such instances.
It's worth considering seriously to avoid a possible error.
I never said it was not worth considering. I said you had not made any arguments which supported your assertions. There is a very big difference between those positions.
Let's see....you demolished every idea I posited to support gov't involvement pretty well, except I think the point about the gov't supporting it's own transportation and services.  That idea was only partly demolished :)
First - I didn't demolish any ideas. I simply pointed out that you had provided no logical support for them. As such, there was nothing to demolish.

Second - the point originally made was not "about the gov't supporting it's own transportation and services". The point you made was that "it makes some sense that the government help pump the water out of the city, fix roads, etc." In other words, the point as you previously phrased it, was about the government providing everyone with roads, providing everyone with power, etc etc, because the government needs those things as well. And my point was that government does not need to provide everyone with those things in order to provide itself with those things.

Now, concerning the government supporting its own transportation and services, certainly it should do so (at least in the instances where it makes sense). But that it not the same as rebuilding or re-establishing a city's services. The one is not the same as the other (as I reiterate again below).

The government needs to be able to move police cars and millitary trucks through the town in order to mantain order, but is unable to do so until the roads are fixed and the water is drained.
As I indicated already, this is not true. The example I provided you of the National Guard and the US Military operations in NO are ample evidence of this.
but whether or not they repair the infrastructure they *do* need is a good question.
There are many reasons the government would temporarily fix a road or the like. The need to get themselves someplace would indeed be one of those reasons. But there is an enormous difference between creating temporary bridges or roads and rebuilding those same things. This is the same thing as providing themselves with a fuel depot instead of repairing the feul infrastructure, or a pool of vehicles, or power generators, or the like. Neither represents a repair of the infrastructure and it is a mistake to assume otherwise.
I just thoght of another question: in a proper gov't system, who pays the "water pumping companies" to pump water out of the city?  Road owners, private businesses in the area, a conglomeration of these? 
In a proper government system, it would be up to private individuals to determined that, not the government. As such, I simply will not specify who would be hired to do so, or how, etc.. It could be any one of the things you named, or something you did not. It could be someone or some group neither of us can even conceive at the moment. That is the wonderful thing about a free market. There are as many ways to get that done as there are ingenious men - so long as they are left free.
I don't yet have a formal argument for why this kind of stealing is justified in disaster situations, but I'm pretty sure it's right.  Anyone in an emergency situation like that who choses death for themselves and their family over breaking into someone's house for food, would be rationalistic and nuts.
I didn't ask for an argument. I asked for the principle which identifies why such actions do not deserve condemnation or the like. And I asked because that principle is the foundation of your position. Without it, you have no basis to assert what an individual or a government should do in such instances.

In your original post, you indicated at least a passing familiarity with Miss Rand's ideas in regard to ethics and emergencies. I would suggest re-reading her essay on the topic, because it identifies the principle in question. And, once you have identified it, you will then be in a position to see if it can be applied to government at all. :)

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If Bob doesn't know where Jane is, and there's no good reason Jane should be un-findable to Bob for a lengthy period of time, this *is* evidence of possible foul play.

I did not suggest otherwise. You have added additional parameters to the scenario I presented - ie you are now saying that Bob is a person whom Jane should always be able to find. Now, one can always add any number of qualifiers to a scenario, thus potentially altering the appropriate response to that scenario. However, such changes do not alter the validity of the original response to the original scenario. And since my statement was not about this new scenario of yours, it needed no clarification or correction.

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Brian,

Again, many good points. Re-reading my initial post, I see I was a bit unlear, scatterbrained. I really like your suggestion that the ethics of emergencies do not apply to governments (I assume you aren't so much suggesting as proclaiming). I haven't read 'EoE' in a long time, perhaps it's time for another read, eh? :)

As for the justification of stealing in emergency situations, I start with the principle that my life is a value. There are some (emergency) situations under which I would not want to live, like watching my wife die when I could take the bullet for her. Stealing during a natural disaster is not that kind of situation to me. I would do whatever else I could before resorting to stealing, but I would steal before accepting death.

I actually would have disagreed with the preceeding 10 years ago when I first became an Oist. I would have said "stealing is wrong, regardless of context." But even back then, if it came down to it, I would have done whatever I need to to survive.

--Dan Edge

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Brian,

RE: Jane and Bob

Correct again! I apologize for misrepresenting your original statement. Thanks!

--Dan Edge

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I haven't read 'EoE' in a long time, perhaps it's time for another read, eh?  :)

Without addressing your additional comments, I think - concerning your questions on the subject - it would be the best resource for resolving them. :)

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Brian,

Again, many good points.  Re-reading my initial post, I see I was a bit unlear, scatterbrained.  I really like your suggestion that the ethics of emergencies do not apply to governments (I assume you aren't so much suggesting as proclaiming).  I haven't read 'EoE' in a long time, perhaps it's time for another read, eh?  :)

As for the justification of stealing in emergency situations, I start with the principle that my life is a value.  There are some (emergency) situations under which I would not want to live, like watching my wife die when I could take the bullet for her.  Stealing during a natural disaster is not that kind of situation to me.  I would do whatever else I could before resorting to stealing, but I would steal before accepting death.

I actually would have disagreed with the preceeding 10 years ago when I first became an Oist.  I would have said "stealing is wrong, regardless of context."  But even back then, if it came down to it, I would have done whatever I need to to survive. 

--Dan Edge

I Agree with Mr. Brian and would like to expound on the theft situation. Very few people would Actually Starve in only a few days. You would need water though. However, you can't be sure that the house your stealing from has really been evacuated. What if you take the water and the family comes back from picking up relatives and then They die? Thats Your responsibility, so you should Always leave your name and ssn and what you took, so you can pay for it later. Sure, It may cost you whatever your sentence is for their deaths but that is something you should consider before taking it. -(not that thats likely)

There is context wherein breaking laws can be moral, but you can't attempt to escape reality through evasion in any way.

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Why do you think that any government -- including a city government -- should be responsible for maintaining roads or disposing of waste matter?

By maintaining roads, I meant: what was designated to the government under the Constitution. The roads inside the cities would be subject to the city itself. I see no reason why a government should not maintain roads.

Consequently I see no reason whatsoever for any money -- stolen or otherwise -- to flow from the U. S. federal government to lower forms of government.

In a time of great crises, the most important things to achieve are the saving of lives, order, and stability. This is what the city or local government will try and achieve. However, when damage is estimated at billions of dollars, the local government obviously cannot handle that large sum. Thus, they would "borrow" money from the Federal government, or receive any excess. They would only need enough money to restore some semblence of order and to save the people; after that, reconstruction is the job of each individual.

Likewise police officers should have been allowed to organize armed citizens in each neighborhood, supervised by a police officer. This sort of step would go a long way toward suppressing the anarchy that erupted.

This is actually a very interesting point. I've never thought of it. Thank you for offering it up :).

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By maintaining roads, I meant: what was designated to the government under the Constitution.  The roads inside the cities would be subject to the city itself.  I see no reason why a government should not maintain roads.

Why would the government be designated to maintain any roads under a proper governments constitution? The last time I checked, roads have nothing to do with individual rights other than being some persons property. :)

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Why would the government be designated to maintain any roads under a proper governments constitution? The last time I checked, roads have nothing to do with individual rights other than being some persons property. :)

In colonial times, there were very few roads outside of urban areas and they were of strategic importance for military transportation and communication.

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In colonial times, there were very few roads outside of urban areas and they were of strategic importance for military transportation and communication.

Thank you for posting this Betsy; this is my primary concern. What would the military and police do? I don't believe in "Corporate Armies" or "Corporate Police". I also do not believe in the government forcing its way upon individuals/corporations via military force.

How do you resolve this dilemma? What would the military and the government do?

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In colonial times, there were very few roads outside of urban areas and they were of strategic importance for military transportation and communication.

Betsy,

I am a bit confused. It is true that roads are of strategic importance to the military. It is also true that power is of strategic importance, as is fuel, as is communications, as is food, etc.. I don't think anyone here has disputed these facts - be they about modern or colonial times.

What is in question is whether the government should "be designated to maintain" such infrastructures "under a proper government's constitution." Should the government be required to build and maintain roads nationally, to build and maintain a power grid nationally, a communications network nationally, fuel manufacturing and distribution nationally, etc because the military needs transportation, communications, fuel, etc? (note this is a different question than government temporarily using, repairing, or maintaining such things in emergency situations or the like.)

With your above response, I am unclear as to your position on this question.

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In a time of great crises, the most important things to achieve are the saving of lives, order, and stability.  This is what the city or local government will try and achieve.  However, when damage is estimated at billions of dollars, the local government obviously cannot handle that large sum.  Thus, they would "borrow" money from the Federal government, or receive any excess. They would only need enough money to restore some semblence of order and to save the people; after that, reconstruction is the job of each individual.

I think this is one of the fundamental questions of the thread: Is the proper role of government something beyond the defense of individuals against the initiation of force? Is the proper role of government also to intervene in people's lives in order to save them or their property from loss other than that resulting from the initiation of force by other men? If so, why?

To make the principle clearer and more readily applied, take an example of something smaller than city-wide disasters. Take just an individual disaster. Is it proper for the govt to involve itself (beyond defense against the initiation of force) in the smaller, personal crises of individuals? For instance, is it the proper job of the government to run a fire department, in order to save individual's lives and property in isolated disasters? If so, why? Or is such a job properly the role of private individuals and not the ogranization which has a monopoly on the use of force in a geographic region? If not, why not?

A flood or an earthquake, etc.. is the same type of situation, simply wrought on a larger scale of destruction. In other words, instead of one person or one family suffering a devastating emergency, it is groups of people suffering such devastation. As we know though, the number of people suffering does not change the principle involved. If it is valid for govt to intervene in the situation of one individual, then it is valid for it to intervene in the situation of a group of individuals. But if it is not valid for government to intervene in situation of one individual, then it is not valid to intervene in the situation of a group of individuals.

So - again - does a proper government have a role beyond defending against the initiation of force?

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I don't think a proper government has a role beyond defending against the initiation of force but, if it is to have a monopoly of retaliatory force it must also have a monopoly of the specific means of implementing that force. Then the question is, Should the government build and maintain its own roads, or should it take over any roads it chooses in a crisis?

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