First Principles: What is the Primary Role of Government?

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer Show Brian gave a preview of the First Principles event tonight with Yaron Brook and Miles Rapoportthe first of three debates in a series on the moral underpinnings of today's politics. The event is co-sponsored by Demos, The Ayn Rand Institute and It's A Free Country. Brook and Rapoport have also been debating in advance on It's A Free Country.

Read more and watch video of the event March 10th at 6pm»»

What is the proper role of government?

Depends who you talk to.  Yaron Brook, the President of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights and Miles Rapoport, the President of Demos since 2001 and the President of The American Prospect magazine, have very different ideas, as you might expect.

They do agree on one thing: Coercion is bad.

Rapoport sees government's role as protecting people from coercion:

 If a company is polluting the water supply behind its factory because it's cheaper for them to do that than to dispose of the hazardous waste safely, I would call that a coercive act and we need a government that will protect people from that.

While Brook sees government programs and regulations as a form of coercion unto itself.

Somebody getting a minimum wage, or somebody getting Medicare, or somebody getting stuff from the government, whatever that happens to be, comes at somebody else's expense. Somebody has to pay for it. And that expense is coerced. I believe that government has no right to coerce its people to do things they don't want.


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Comments [6]

Ryan from NYC

Thank you for inviting Dr. Brook. Mind opening.

Mar. 12 2011 01:00 PM

Terrible synopsis for all the reasons mentioned below.

Miles clearly stated that while he believes the initiation of force or coercion from criminals (thieves, murderers, etc.) is bad and that he wants the government vis-a-vis the police to protect us from these people, he also clearly stated that he believes that when the government itself initiates force or coercion that it somehow magically becomes not-force and not-coercion because the majority says so.

Yaron's point was simply that if it is wrong to steal, murder, kidnap, or otherwise to initiate physical force against someone who has not himself used force, then calling oneself "your representative in government" or "IRS agent" or "soldier" etc. doesn't magically make it not-theft, not-kidnapping, or not-murder.

So it is no misrepresentation to state that, in essence, Miles' position is the role of government is to enforce the majority will of the people, while Yaron's position is that the role of government is to enforce each individual's inalienable rights, which no majority can take away.

Mar. 12 2011 12:57 PM
Jessica from New Mexico


I agree with you. While Rapoport did make that statement, it is not representative of his fundamental argument.

Contrary to the synopsis, both men do not believe coercion is bad. Rapoport believes coercion is good and necessary if it is carried out by the government in the name of the common good.

Mar. 12 2011 11:05 AM
Josh from New Mexico

Either the person writing this synopsis doesn't understand what was expressed during the debate or is purposely trying to obscure both debator's prime arguments.

Brook sees the government's role as protecting the people from coercion, and only engaging in coercion itself in retaliation for the initiation of force. Brook would agree whole heartedly with what you claim is Rapoport's statement.

It disturbs me that the official synopsis of the debate, presented here, on the host page, is so inaccurate.

Rapoport's position is that the government can initiate the use of force or use coercion to force individuals to take actions or to confiscate and redistribute their property in the name of the common good.

Mar. 12 2011 09:58 AM
Ryan Bell from Iowa


If you don't understand the specifics of his point then just say so and someone will attempt to explain it to you in another,way. There is no need to ridicule, especially if you don't know what his position is in the first place.

Mar. 12 2011 01:31 AM
Marcello from Brooklyn

I agree with Brook's point. I am sick and tired of being forced by government to stop at traffic lights and, in general, to obey stupid traffic rules that invade and limit my individual, god-given liberties.
Yield to pedestrians... stay on the right side of the street... don't drive while intoxicated... ENOUGH WITH IT!!.......

Mar. 11 2011 11:54 AM

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