Almost anyone who at any point was a geek or nerd or owns an amazing taste in literature has read Isaac Asimov's classic Foundation Trilogy. Salvor Hardin, a protagonist in part of the trilogy, favors this saying,
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent, even hanging a printed copy on his office wall. Asimov maintains the theme throughout the entire series, always showing how creativity and reason can overcome the simple strategy of the bigger gun every time. Likewise, there is almost always a more creative, imaginative and most importantly, better solution to any problem than the seemingly simple solution of government. Government is the last refuge of the incompetent. Government is violence.
Some may be confused as to how government can be called violence. Just ask yourself what exactly government can do that your average person cannot. That one thing is the legal use of force, or violence. People grant government the power to use violence, or the threat of, to do what ordinary people cannot.
For example, if citizen John was to violently take fifty dollars from citizen Bob, John would be arrested and convicted of theft, and possibly assault. However, if government agent Jane was to "redistribute" fifty dollars taken from Bob as taxes and give that to John in the form of welfare, then few would complain.
When the government creates laws, it supports those laws with the threat of violence, and actual violence for offenders. Likewise, when government institutes taxes, those taxes are backed by the same threat and use of violence. If you break the law or fail to pay taxes, then you will be arrested and sent to jail. If you resist, then violence will be used to force you to comply.
Government uses violent force. However, it is supposed to use that force for the betterment of the people within that society. When a policeman uses force to protect you from an attacker, then that force is just. Government uses force to protect the rights of people.
However, is all government force justified? Or is government really the last refuge of the incompetent?
Most will agree that government force is necessary to protect the rights of the people through the justice system or the military, though anarchists may care to disagree. Most will also agree that government force in the form of taxation is needed for basic infrastructure. But is government force needed to "redistribute wealth" or to change society, or combat personal demons?
Often today when people see a problem their first reaction is to make a law against it, or to tax it. Don't like marijuana? Ban it. Think we use too much gasoline? Tax it. Think some foreign product will harm American industry? Tariff it. Think ethanol is the future? Subsidize it. Want to help people get access to health care? Regulate it. Don't like the communism in Cuba? Embargo it.
The problem though is that government force is not used in a vacuum. That force has consequences. The war on drugs has lead to a prison population of over two million. Taxes on gasoline are regressive, harm the poor and do little to affect the rather inelastic demand for oil. Protecting an American industry through tariffs will just cause other nations to retaliate by adding tariffs to our exports. Corn subsidized have helped few people besides a few gigantic agricultural corporations. There is now more regulations in the health care industry than any other while almost everyone not the CEO of an insurance company will admit the current situation is a complete mess. And finally, the Cuban embargo has done nothing to end communism in Cuba, while leaving the nation in terrible economic shape and making it harder for the Yankees to sign promising Cuban prospects.
The use of government force almost always carries with it unintentional consequences. Often those consequences are worst than the initial problem government force was meant to solve.
There is another saying that
The road to hell is paved with good intentions. This is particularly relevant when contemplating the use of government to attempt to solve a problem. You intentions may be pure, but the eventual consequences have no guarantee.
Instead of government, when there is a problem creativity and imagination combined with a dose of rational thinking can be used to find a better solution. There is almost always an alternative answer. Lack of imagination is never a good excuse.
Want to fix the drug problem? Bringing the the users out of the underground and into the open is a great first step. Then society, friends and family can better help those with real problems once their addiction is in the open.
Want to minimize the use of oil? American society needs to rethink its obsession with suburban living combined with miles of commute to the office.
Afraid of foreign competition? Try to rethink your production and maximize your efficiency. Or perhaps it is time to change industries. Times change and the economy evolves.
Need subsidies to produce ethanol? Maybe it is not the panacea that many believe it to be. Time to invest limited resources in more promising areas.
Want affordable health care for everyone? Now that is a problem requiring more than a sentence for a solution. Not that there aren't many ideas with little need for government involvement. Here is a hint for one aspect of a solution: non-profit corporations.
And finally, want to end communism in Cuba? It's hard to end communism when you insulate it from the joys of capitalism. Instead of an embargo, we should be trading as much as possible with Cuba to show the people the wealth that capitalism creates. American tourism will do more good in five years than an American embargo could ever hope.
These are just some ideas that out-of-the-government-box thinking can produce.
Considering that government force will often not even fix the problem it is addressing (war on drugs?) and then add its own, often negative, unintentional consequences, government really is the last refuge of the incompetent.