A Day in the Life Without Government
What would it be like to live without government services?
Posted June 26, 2016 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
This piece is a departure from my usual topics. I offer it as food for thought.
Many people are feeling disconnected from government. They see the relationship as one-way: government “takes” in the form of taxes and by imposing rules and regulations on us, but it does not “give.”
Truth be told, government and “we, the people” are not just connected; we’re utterly dependent on each other. Government depends on us for revenue, and we depend on government for protection and services, from inspecting the safety of the food we eat to saving lives when there’s a human-made or natural disaster.
I’m going to use a hypothetical to illustrate what a day in the life without government would be like. My purpose is to show how government—federal, state, and local—contributes to our quality of life (even saving life at times). Although I have readers from all over the world, I’ve set the hypothetical in the United States because that’s where I live.
A Day in the Life
Assume it’s an ordinary weekday. You have to get your toddler up, dressed, fed, and to day care so you can get to work (for a private company, of course, since there are no government jobs). Here’s how your day might unfold:
Your alarm goes off. You stretch and take a deep breath. “Eww! What’s that foul smell? Oh yeah. It’s the odor from garbage in the street. The city used to have a contract with a private company for garbage pick-up, but the contract was paid out of local taxes. No taxes; no pick-up.”
You get out of bed, go into the bathroom. You turn on the water to brush your teeth, but then have second thoughts about it: “I can’t be sure the water supply is safe; there’s no government agency checking it for bacteria and toxins. It could even have raw sewage in it since all the government-run sewage treatment plants have been shut down.”
Teeth unbrushed, you return to the bedroom to get dressed, but realize you don’t know how hot or cold it will be outside today since there’s no National Weather Service. Then you reflect on how the government-run early warning systems are no longer functioning either: “I won’t know if severe weather is approaching—such as a hurricane or a tornado.”
With that troubling thought still in your mind, you suddenly hear a shriek coming from your toddler’s bedroom. You rush in only to find that his head is stuck between the bars of the crib. Poor Johnny. You recall Professor Bernhard [that would be me many years ago] giving a lecture on government regulations. She said everyone complains about them, but regulations often set crucial safety standards for consumer goods.
The example she used was a regulation that applied to the manufacturers of baby cribs. The regulation specifies the exact distance a manufacturer must leave between the bars on a crib, so that they’re not too wide for a baby to be able to get out of the crib, but not so close together that a baby might get his or her head stuck. “Hmm. Maybe regulations like that weren’t such a bad idea. I definitely should have paid more attention in her class. Oh well, what’s a few bruises? Time for breakfast.”
You take little Johnny into the kitchen. What might the two of you have for breakfast? You ponder: “Not cereal because I can’t be sure the milk isn’t contaminated—no government inspectors at the dairies anymore. And what if there’s salmonella in the eggs? I’ll take my chances on some toast, hoping that the farmer didn’t use more pesticides on the wheat than the government used to say was within legal limits. At least I canned the jelly myself, although I hope that the berries weren’t over-sprayed with pesticides either. Oh well, this will have to do for breakfast.”
Having dressed yourself and Johnny in layers since you don’t know what weather to expect, you go out to your car. “I’m so glad to be rid of those intrusive laws that insisted on car seats for young children. I’ll just ride with Johnny on my lap. And, how freeing it is not to be required to put on my seatbelt!”
You start the car and are surprised to see that you have barely enough gas to get Johnny to day care and you to work, even though you thought you’d filled the tank the day before: “Hmm. I guess without a Department of Weights and Measures to check the gas pumps and keep the station owners honest, I have no idea if I put in as much gas as the pump indicated I did.”
You back out of the driveway and onto the road—a dirt road. “Darned this dirt road,” you think. “Oh right. It’s the government that used to keep them paved.” You start driving, but keep hitting potholes. One is so deep that Johnny is thrown out of your lap and hits his head on the top of the car. He starts screaming. When he quiets down, you hear your bumper dragging on the road; it was damaged by one of the deeper potholes. You start to curse the road crew, but then remember that they were government workers…working no more.
You arrive at the day care center. When you go inside, you’re confronted with 20 kids running around without supervision and with rotting food all over the floor. In addition, you look out the windows and notice that the yards aren’t fenced. You wonder if this is a safe place for Johnny to spend the day, but you have no choice. “Maybe,” you think, “it wasn’t such a bad idea for state government to license day care centers, so they at least had to comply with basic health and safety standards.” A wave of fear washes over you as you wonder about Johnny’s future after day care since the public school system, including colleges and universities, are a thing of the past.
Leaving Johnny at day care, you enter an intersection, planning to turn left to get to your office. Before you can turn, a car from the cross street rams into your passenger side door because the traffic lights—installed and maintained by local government—are no longer in operation. You’re caught in the middle of a multi-car pile-up and someone appears to be hurt. You start to call 911, but it’s no longer operative because it was run by government. How about a call to the local police? Nope: they were employed by government.
And so, you sit in the middle of this pile-up for two hours until a guy from a local garage arrives and pries the cars apart. Finally, you’re on your way, but only for a few minutes: “What’s that ahead? It looks like a tree has come down and is blocking the road, and there are no government emergency workers to move it out of the way. I’ll have to turn around and take a different route.” By the time you get to work, you’re so late that you’re fired.
As you’re mulling over the fact that there will be no government-dispensed unemployment benefits in your future, day care calls and says that you need to pick up Johnny and have his hacking cough checked out. You call the doctor and get an appointment. You manage to get Johnny to the doctor’s office on time, but now you’re not sure you should go inside: “How do I know whether this doctor is who he says he is? Anyone can hang up a shingle and call him or herself a doctor. There’s no government agency to monitor this.”
Feeling you have no choice but to trust the doctor, you keep the appointment. He tells you that Johnny has bronchitis, and he writes a prescription for an antibiotic. You take a bumpy, pothole-filled drive to the nearest pharmacy, but doubts arise again: “Without the Federal Drug Administration regulating which medications are safe and what the proper dosages are, how do I know this stuff won’t be harmful to Johnny?” As with the doctor, you take your chances and fill the prescription.
Home at last, you’re now jobless and worried about Johnny. You decide that you’d better cancel your plans to take him to the ocean this weekend. “It’s just as well,” you reflect, “because I don’t like leaving the house for longer than necessary. After all, I have to protect my savings.” Your savings are hidden under the mattress because, with no FDIC (federally insured deposits) to protect your money, should your bank go under, you’d lose it all. On the other hand, if someone breaks into your house, that savings could be gone and there’d be no chance of getting it back since there are no police investigators.
To take your mind off your troubles, you settle in for a night of television but have only a few network channels to choose from. You can’t afford cable because price-fixing among the various providers has driven the costs sky high. You recall, “Oh, yeah. The federal government used to have laws against price fixing.”
So, there it is: a partial snapshot of a day in the life without government. At first read, my description of the day may sound far-fetched. But if you think about it, not only is it realistic, but it could be much worse. What if there were a fire at your house? There’d be no fire department to call.
In the Gettysburg Address, President Lincoln said that government is of the people, by the people, for the people. What does “by the people” mean? It means that government and its employees—police officers, firefighters, road workers, safety inspectors, terrorism experts—only protect us if we, the people, are willing to pay for that protection. How do we pay? Through taxes, of course. Maybe we don’t like them, but taxes pay for the services that protect our health, our safety, the quality of our life, and even our life itself at times.
To repeat the theme from the beginning of this piece: government needs us and we need government.
© 2016 Toni Bernhard.
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