The customer of government

There is a lot of variation in mindsets and paradigms around government and its relationship with society and the people. Some see government as the “master of society,” assuming that the authority of the state is the driving force behind everything that happens. Others reverence government and invoke a religious lexicon to talk about it.

Without getting into any of the underlying philosophy, I am going to apply a different way of thinking about government, one that is gaining traction among Hayekian economists, crazy libertarians, and even a small set of dreamers promoting concepts like “customer service” in federal agencies.

Here’s the crux of it: government provides a set of products and services that we – the people – buy.  We pay taxes, which pays for programs and agencies and bureaus and departments, and those things in turn do something that we value. We are customers of government.

It won’t take you much thought to realize that there are fundamental differences between the way we buy hamburgers and the way we buy national defense. And we definitely do not get the amount of choice for property rights providers that we have for cold medications.

But I would ask that you don’t throw out the idea because it is a less-than-perfect way of looking at the world. After all, every idea has limitations. By being honest about the shortcomings and open to the connections and ramifications, a different mindset can shed new light on things that didn’t make sense before.

In the coming posts, I will step through elements of modern American politics using the framework as citizens as customers.


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