Sunday, August 12, 2007

Uncommon Public Service

Politicians love to claim the title of "public servant," but all too often they end up being more "public" than "servant."

What's the best way for them to be better servants? The answer to that question lies in a little history lesson. Before there were politicians, there were kings. Kings made the same claim about public service, and faced many of the same problem politicians face today. Faces, names and costumes change in history, but human nature endures.

According to Robert Wright, author of Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, kings figured out they "could win gratitude by performing the public service of harmonizing law and settling disputes. Indeed, by bringing trust and predictability to the system, he could unlock enough economic non-zero-sumness to pay his salary in the form of taxes."

In effect, government earns its keep by creating the conditions under which people can reliably own property, trade with one another, and peacefully settle disputes. The king that created those conditions was a king worth keeping. The government that creates those conditions is a government worth voting for.

Statue of Israel King David in Copenhagen, Denmark. Sculptor: F. A. Jerichau (1860)

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