A Question For All Time

Sorry– almost 600 words here, but I think you’ll like it.

My wife recently told me she might run for mayor of our small town.

Not being one to miss out on a good argument, I started strafing her with questions until I decided to try one I’ve been saving for a while:

Is there anything, anything at all, in human life or endeavor that you consider to be absolutely none of government’s business whatsoever?

She had to pause and think for a bit, because (and this is the point) few people ever consider the question.  She disappointed me slightly by blurting out what I would have predicted (I bet 90% of you have already come up with the same answer): “Sex.”  Then she caught herself, “Uh, between consenting adults, uh, of consenting age, uh, twenty-one.”

Age of consent, 21?  That was a real surprise to me, coming from her.  No matter.  I then asked her, “You don’t favor government funding for AIDS research”?


“Should government be given any role in STD statistics gathering, prevention, cures, or any such related matters?”


Clearly, most people, when backed into a corner thus, will eventually admit that they do indeed believe government has some business in our sex lives, and that’s even before you get to the product of sex– children, and with that– raising children, child custody, child support, compulsory education, sex education and family law.  (When our first baby was born, we were visited by a government case worker who interviewed us and inspected our house, clipboard in hand, to make sure we were fit to keep and raise our own child)

Again I asked: “Is there anything at all that should be entirely beyond the jurisdiction of government?”

“Yes– private matters.  Some things are private”

“Such as..?  We go to our neighbor down the street and buy a dozen eggs each week (they keep a few chickens).  Is that a private matter?”


“I agree, but that $52 has to be declared to the IRS.  Now let’s say word gets around and eventually everyone in our town goes to that neighbor and buys a dozen eggs each week.  That’s around 500 dozen eggs per week, or $26,000 per year in gross revenue.  Is that government’s business?”

“Yes, we have to collect taxes…but we could barter for the eggs.  We can do yard work for the neighbor in return for the eggs.” (this is one of the infinite variations of; ‘other people should be taxed, sure, but we can find a way to sneak around it for ourselves without getting caught.’  This particular, instant knee-jerk reaction tells us a lot about politics all by itself).

“Sorry.  That’s a taxable transaction according to the IRS, and if barter were to be made officially non taxable, you’d see a major shift in the economy as people found ways to barter and avoid taxation.  Would you support that?”

“No.  We have to collect taxes.”

On it went.  The bottom line is; my wife’s initial reaction was that, certainly, there are many things that are properly none of government’s business.  However, she would eventually say that each aspect of our lives, once I questioned her further, is actually government’s business in some way.

I ask you to consider the question, in this age wherein we have fallen to discussing (seriously, even) a ban on light bulbs, in this the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave:  Can you name anything at all within the realm of human activity that in your opinion should be absolutely none of any government’s business whatsoever?


8 thoughts on “A Question For All Time

  1. I’m of the opinion that the government shouldn’t tax or provide money toward food development; the free market really should be able to deal with price values and flux, and taxing necessities just seems counterintuitive to me.

    I don’t want the government promoting or prohibiting any form of speech, whether it be religious or political. I’ve seen what happens when the ugly is outlawed, and it seldom helps and often hurts.

    I’d *like* to live in a world where I could say the same for individual firearms, but there’s no way it’d be politically viable to suggest we deal with Columbine wannabes by shooting them first, or that those who can’t be trusted with a .22 can’t be trusted with a butter knife. I’m sorry to say I’ve also put the right to association up on the funeral pyre: there are too many racists and too many people willing to exclude psychologically unusual individuals even when those folk are the best choice for the job.

    I dunno. There are a few other portions that I think shouldn’t be legislated — the lightbulbs would go pretty high on that list, particularly since people sticking with the old sort are punished enough by the energy and effectiveness costs — but I’m equally sure that you can find some eccentric applications where I’d consider the costs of not interfering significant enough to justify the action.

  2. I could more easily enumerate the things the government should be allowed to interfer with in our lives.

    If you want the reverse lets start with victimless crimes such as prostitution, recreational drug use, homosexuality, etc. Of course this covers the manufacture and sale of toilets, showerheads, and lightbulbs.

  3. I’ll take a stab at this:

    The state should not interfere in voluntary commerce between and among free individuals which does not bring about physical harm to individuals.

    Important codicils: “Voluntary” means NO — absolutely — coercion — including non-physical means. “Physical” harm includes harm to property, including monetary damage. This includes fraud.

    And, no, I do not believe the state has an inherent “right” to collect taxes. It may arrogate the power to itself to do so, but that power is subject to the tolerance of the people.

    IMO, the FedGov’s powers ought to be strictly limited to defend the realm, administer the courts, deliver the mail. (With an option on that last item.)

    State governments limited to keeping the peace, adminstering courts, and…. can’t think of a third offhand.

    Local governments should maintain the watch, administer the courts, and keep the streets clean. Watch includes police and fire — fire being optional. For that matter, police can be optional.

    Government should NOT be in business competition with its citizens, nor colluding with some against others, nor should it assume the mantle of a church and engage in charity.

    I state all this as a matter of belief and hold it as subject to refinement. IMO, the desirable direction of refinement would be to more-stringently limit the defined proper functions of government.


  4. Great answers. Regarding association: I submit that if business A refuses to serve or hire people from group B, that creates an opportunity niche for group B to flourish in serving and hiring members of group B, along with everyone else, thus gaining an advantage in the market. Business A is therefore cutting its own throat in the market. Add to that the potential public relations snafu they’re creating with their discriminatory practices. Economics will take care of the problem automatically as long as coercion and fraud are strictly prohibited and punished.

  5. There is nothing that the “government” should be doing.

    I would allow them to maintain roads, emergency services, and justice, but only for the amount of time needed to set up non-state solutions to these issues.

    Yes … this is not possible all at once. But I feel that we should work towards this. If some problem is intractable without State intervention, we can leave it for now, and hammer at some other State intrusion.

    All governments in the US together, in the 1950s, spent 10% of what they do now. I think we can turn back to that as a starter.

  6. Lyle, that works perfectly when a large enough system exists. In small systems, however, it has not done so.

    The simplest example would be those on the softer end of the autistic spectrum. High-functioning autistics (aka those with Asperger’s), are as a definition single-minded and tend to jobs which take a focus on a single technical field. This attribute makes for incredibly good technicians and researchers. This attribute (as well as some others) also makes for incredibly poor interview skills, and as a result, high-functioning autistics are widely discriminated against on an employment basis across the board.

    Because autistics make up a relatively small percentage of the population, because new companies in the fields they are most capable in and most discriminated against in are fairly expensive to enter, and because management groups inside *new* companies often develop the same biases, there has been very little successful movement against such discrimination through the free market.

    No, this isn’t a hypothetical : the ADA protections against discrimination have had little success prosecuting those who commit such discrimination, and new companies run by possibly Aspergan individuals (Bill Gates being the classic example) still discriminate against those with autism/Aspergers in hiring practices. It’s actually worse in other countries, such as Canada where such individuals have been written out of sections of the human rights texts.

    I would VASTLY prefer if the free market could solve this problem — we may very well not see legal action until the entire autistic structure has been wiped out from the gene pool — but I don’t expect a significant change in how the free market reacts to such discrimination anytime soon.

  7. No one said the world was ever fair, or ever could be fair. It is a known fact that good looking people have an interview advantage. What would you do, have the government force people to hire ugly people? Ugly people have an extreme disadvantage in finding mates. Would you force people to marry ugly people, or install a “beauty tax” on people who date and/or marry beautiful people?

    No, no and no. Those who discriminate against Aspergers, or anyone else, are already paying for it due to the fact that they miss out on some their most productive workers. Those with Aspergers will find jobs and their productivity will find a way to express itself. I don’t know if Bill Gates ever was declined a job application, but if so that decline led to his becoming one of the most successful human beings of all time, and we his customers have benefited greatly as a result. Now imagine if some “Aspergers Affirmative Action” program would have forced someone to hire Gates, and as a result he never started Microsoft. Gates might today be gathering statistics for the Department of Agriculture or something, or working on mainframe systems for IBM…

    A lot of the highly successful companies throughout history have been founded by outcast weirdoes. Viva la weirdo.

    The main point is that people have the right to choose their mate, and to choose their associates. That trumps the whole argument right there. That freedom is more conducive to an affluent society is at the same time obvious and beside the main point.

  8. A good number of highly successful companies have been started by wierdos who actually were supported rather than outcast. A lot of extremely good work has been done by wierdos who were actually supported rather than outcast, as well. Look at Tesla, who was certifiably insane but, due to Westinghouse’s support, ended up revolutionizing the electrical systems used in this country. The simple destruction civilization would undergo if DC had won the War of the Currents is literally unimaginable, yet it was won merely by chance.

    Yes, life isn’t fair, and I agree that government doesn’t exist to make things more fair. But this is one of those situations where the negative results are great enough that I can’t honestly say I’d rather see one in twenty individuals so discriminated against rather than allow the government to interfere. Moreover, such discrimination is such a hot-button issue that any explicit prevention of government intervention would be quickly overturned by the people, weakening other explicit preventions.

    I’d *prefer* it if society were filled with people who were stupid, greedy, and ignorant enough for the right to freedom of association to be so uninfringed. On the other hand, too much of reality seems to go in the opposite direction.

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