How Government is Supposed to Work

John J. Walters Nov 26, 2010

Sometimes it’s funny what it takes to make my blood boil.  One week ago I was randomly mugged by three hoodlums who gave me a black eye and I didn’t get so much as an adrenaline rush.  These things happen; they’ll get theirs.  Then I see the following link on a friend’s Facebook wall and I can immediately feel the heat rising…

A true patriot who understands how government is supposed to work and that taxes are not evil.”

The article, which was published in The Huffington Post, is a brief summary of an interview with Warren Buffett in which he states that the wealthy have never had it so good and that he thinks, “people at the high end, people like [himself], should be paying a lot more in taxes.”  There is also a snippet from a letter he wrote to “Uncle Sam” thanking him for his swift and decisive action during the recession, which apparently must be over to hear him tell it.

When the crisis struck, I felt you would understand the role you had to play. But you've never been known for speed, and in a meltdown minutes matter. I worried whether the barrage of shattering surprises would disorient you. You would have to improvise solutions on the run, stretch legal boundaries and avoid slowdowns, like Congressional hearings and studies. You would also need to get turf-conscious departments to work together in mounting your counterattack. The challenge was huge, and many people thought you were not up to it.

Well, Uncle Sam, you delivered. People will second-guess your specific decisions; you can always count on that. But just as there is a fog of war, there is a fog of panic -- and, overall, your actions were remarkably effective.

I guess billionaires who have already agreed to sign away their wealth like Buffett aren’t really paying much attention to this jobless recovery.  I’m not trying to denigrate the significance of the Giving Pledge, but doesn’t it sort of cheapen the whole idea if it’s not a choice but a requirement?  And what about those businesses that aren’t run by someone who is more focused on the end than on the next big project?  Encouraging the government to treat all successful businesses like cash cows is a sure-fire way to stifle growth and maintain an elevated unemployment rate.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.  There are plenty of good reasons to get angry at Buffett’s misguided statements, but the real focus of my own personal angst was at the statement that the government is “supposed to work” this way.  Explain to me, if you can, why government is supposed to work the way you think it should and not the way someone else does.

America already had this debate a couple hundred years ago.  We made a bunch of decisions, some of which were so bad they needed to be amended, that led us to generate a few key documents.  These documents should be our guiding principles for how government is “supposed to work” -- not some rich guy.