Sunday, November 19, 2006

The role of the government

I shouldn’t be surprised that some people didn’t find anything wrong with the fact that a local government in Brazil was handing out free Viagra.

But still, I am.

This is one of those subjects where is easy to misplace the actual blame. You could say that this is all because of the lefty press, the socialist government, or even the “intellectual elite” that plagues Brazil since I can remember.

But that would be unfair. The real problem is the complete ignorance of the whole country about the role of the government.

The government is (or should be) just a provider of essential services. More specifically, it should be the provider of services that cannot be provided efficiently by the private enterprise and that are needed to enable private enterprise to function optimally. The list of such services is debatable but if that simple concept is understood most of the real basic disagreements go away.

So it is NOT the role of the government to “make people happy”. Just like is not the role of the government make people clean, fit, informed or entertained.

This is a classic slippery slope because someone may argue that by making people clean or informed you are enabling them to be productive and therefore fulfilling the ultimate role of government which is to enable private enterprise.

Still, the distinction should be clear: government should only get involved in tasks that cannot be done by private citizens independently. The fact that viagra is expensive and that old people like to have sex is as far away from a government issue as it can be.

It is also part of the government role to provide a structure that enables the government itself. It is clear that this is not an efficient process and waste is plentiful. However, to use this kind of problem as a justification to the involvement of the government in areas outside is role is ridiculous.