Monday, May 10, 2010


Being able to prioritize things is an essential skill in a complex world. Families must prioritize items in their budgets, Homemakers must prioritze their use of time, corporations their allocation of capital etc. This seemingly universal and self-evident principle causes some difficulty when transposed to the government arena.

There are some things government must prioritize, particularly when economic circumstances are tight. The most obvious list of priorities is that concerning government functions. If we simply list out an informal census of these, we might include collective derfense, public health, education, justice, public safety, immigration, resource management, ensuring adequate supplies of food and energy, and maintiaining relations with other governments. Of course, the more eager acolytes of government action might include such novelties as promoting "social justice," cultural diversity, and economic redistribution. The specific rank that a person would give each item in such a list would be a product of that person's individual values and political philosophy, and determining such priorities is a large part of the entire political process.

In contrast with the necessity of prioritizing essential government functions, politics is inadequate to the task and often causes great harm when it attempts to prioritize among competing rights. These contests are most visible in the conflicts that arise among the right of free expression and the neologic oddity of the right not to be offended. Similar conflicts are found regarding rights of conscience and access to abortion, and between those who own firearms and those who are made nervous as a result. Govenrment can not effectively prioritize rights because the very essence of rights includes the ability to prioritize for one's self those which are are most and least important. The value of a particular right to a particular person is inherently subjective and it is difficult to conceive of a more perfect parody of tyranny than that in which the government tries to tell individual people what should be most important to them.

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