“A wise and frugal government which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” – Thomas Jefferson, Second Inaugural Address (1801)
The government in any society is the institution that is allowed to use force: physical violence. There are certain activities that require force, and we need a government in order to perform those activities. Activities that require force would include:
1. Protecting people from body crimes such as murder, assault, and rape.
2. Protecting people from property crimes such as theft, fraud, vandalism, and pollution.
3. Enforcing the terms of contracts when there is a dispute.
4. Providing public goods. Public goods are goods that cannot be provided by the free market for one reason or another. Arguably, public goods might include education and provisioning for the poor (see the sections of the website dealing with “Education” and “Providing for the Poor” to get more details).
However, very little else that society needs requires force, and having the government perform any tasks other than the limited set that require force is foolish because the government is a monopoly. Like all monopolies, the government has very little incentive to be cost effective, and very little incentive to please its customers. When we give more and more responsibility to the government, we are giving more and more responsibility to the least efficient institution in our society.
The philosophy of government being espoused here is that Americans are a free people who have a limited government that may perform only those few functions that require force.
These are not crazy ideas from outer space. The philosophy being advocated here is the philosophy of government espoused by Thomas Jefferson, and it is much closer to the philosophy that governed America for most of its history than the sort of government that we have now. In dealing with the issues discussed on this website, we have tried to respond as Thomas Jefferson would respond if he were living in modern times. The approach to the government that Jefferson advocated is called Libertarianism.
The key aspects of the Jeffersonian (libertarian) philosophy are the concepts of:
Limited government: Limited government means that the government has a specific, stated set of functions that it is allowed to perform, and it is not permitted to assume powers beyond those functions. The government may collect tax money for the purpose of performing those specific functions, but a limited government may not collect one penny more in taxes than is required to carry out its legally mandated functions.
A free people: The people of the United States (including those living in Iowa) are a free people. This means, if a citizen is an adult and has made it through primary education, that citizen is allowed to live his or her life without interference as long as he or she does not interfere with the lives and property of others. Among a free people, citizens should be allowed to do anything that’s peaceful. That is, as long as you are not harming other people or their property, and are honoring any contracts you have made, then you may conduct your life however you want.