What Is Government’s Proper Role in Our Lives?

I must share a secret that few know.  I can trace my family heritage on my mother’s side to Alexander Hamilton.  Hamilton is a co-author of The Federalist Papers, which prescribed a centralized role for the American federal government.  (You can read more about Hamilton’s legacy here.)  A Founding Father and first Secretary of the Treasury of the United States, Hamilton’s philosophy of economic nationalism is, according to columnist David Brooks, all but abandoned today.  We’ve gone too far with government intervention.  We have a federal government that caters to the have-nots and demonizes the haves.  Hamilton’s vision was for the long haul, not catering to the short-term whim to win voters.  Here is an excerpt from Brooks’ column, The Role of Uncle Sam, in the Tuesday, May 29, 2012 issue of The New York Times:

This version of economic nationalism meant that he [Hamilton] and the people who followed in his path–focused on long-term structural development, not on providing jobs right now. They had their sights on the horizon, building the infrastructure, education and research facilities required for future greatness. This nationalism also led generations of leaders to assume that there is a rough harmony of interests between capital and labor. People in this tradition reject efforts to divide the country between haves and have-nots.

Finally, this nationalism meant that policy emphasized dynamism, and opportunity more than security, equality and comfort. While European governments in the 19th and early 20th centuries focused on protecting producers and workers, the U.S. government focused more on innovation and education.

Because of these priorities, and these restrictions on the federal role, the government could be energetic without ever becoming gigantic. Through the 19th century, the federal government consumed about 4 percent of the national gross domestic product in peacetime. Even through the New Deal, it consumed less than 10 percent.

Meanwhile, America prospered.

But this Hamiltonian approach has been largely abandoned.

What do you think the proper role of government is for the Japanese people?

3 thoughts on “What Is Government’s Proper Role in Our Lives?

  1. Unlike the American government, Japanese one conducts relatively a bigger government. However, recently it seems that the Japanese big government is coming to the ebb, like we can see it privatizes some government-dominated companies. The proper role of the Japanese government is to remain a big government and increase its intervention to several sectors (infrastructure, education, and medical etc.) on the market. The reason is that so far, thanks to that political strategy, Japan had been prosperous for many years, providing relatively highly qualified public services with us. People lived in equality comparatively and felt better without clear division between the rich and the poor. And even now, we owe our health insurance certifications to seeing doctors with less money, regardless of how rich or poor we are. Some people might say that a big government has many problems, such as tax systems and so on, but for Japanese it’s essential for prospering because I believe the past history shows how a big government was successful here.

  2. First of all, I am utterly surprised and shocked by the confession you just made in this post, Alexander Hamilton was your ancestor! Wow.

    Although it was mentioned in the article from the New York Times that Hamilton was making a policy focusing more on the “long-term structural development,” it does not mention what and how Hamilton’s approach was such. This may be due to my lack of knowledge on American politics, but I would have liked to know more about it in details. However, politics is not only created by politicians. It is, by nature, something “of the people, by the people, for the people.” So the proper role of Japanese government now is to educate the citizens that they would not be deceived and manipulated by the media or the government. It does sound rather odd that the government should enlighten its people that they would not be mislead by the government themselves, but I do believe it is important. Politics is not something far away floating in the air that has nothing to do with us. It is what matters to our everyday life. The government should be the one to teach us that very fact.

  3. I think the most important and expected role of the government should be to provide equal opportunity to be educated. In Japan, the education gap between rich and poor is the growing problem these days. Parents with high income pay expensive school fees and send their children to good private schools. According to a survey, the expense for private elementary school is six times higher than that of public elementary school. The education gap or the gap in academic background caused by economic gap again leads to the income gap in the next generation. In this way, the rich stay rich and the poor stay poor forever. This seems unequal, and the government should reduce the education gap between the rich and the poor.

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