Government’s Roles: A Thought Experiment

By Lance Chilton

I began this series to counter Ronald Reagan’s statement that “Government is not the solution to the problem.  It is the problem.”

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine you’re flying into a small airport, say in a conservative western state with two beautiful national parks you’d like to visit. This state has declared that it will not abide by federal laws having to do with air transport, and it won’t restrict people’s “liberties” by imposing regulations on private enterprise.

Your plane lands, having dodged two small aircraft that circle about the airport, seemingly oblivious of the approach of the larger plane. You notice weeds growing around the shuttered control tower and the runway is pot-holed. Your luggage takes 2 hours to be brought to the terminal, and you must choose among competing porters. Anyone can walk around the tarmac at will, since no laws forbid the practice, but watch out for taxiing aircraft! Outside the airport, you notice many buses, small and large, and a fight breaks out among the bus drivers vying for your business, with no one but the local militia to break up the fight.

The above scenario describes the experience of a member of my family landing in the eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, not long ago, where the government’s authority didn’t extend far from the capital, Kinshasa. There was no equivalent of the Federal Aviation Administration, no functioning local airport authority, no local police presence. No governmental agency paved the runway, and no one regulated the porters who were the only way of getting luggage from the belly of the plane. In addition, no one kept people from wandering out on the runway, and no one checked to make sure you weren’t carrying weapons aboard the plane. 

Although the USA’s Transportation Safety Administration is one of those federal agencies we love to hate (right up there with the IRS), it does provide us with a certain feeling of safety when we board a plane, whether it’s a puddle-jumper or a supersonic intercontinental jet.

Government, in this instance and many others, has a role in insuring our safety and comfort.