Government is a set of rules and institutions people set up so they can function together as a unified society. Sometimes we call this a state or a nation or a country. Thus the act of governing a political unit is governance. The question of why is a government needed has been dealt with such depths over time that most of the opinions are reflections of such a discourse.
At present times governments worldwide provide a wide range of services like ensuring growth and development, economic security in society by managing and regulating a country's economy, social security by establishing equality and justice, maintaining an army and protecting its borders, providing public amenities like roads, infrastructure, basic facilities of health and education, maintaining foreign affairs and many more.
Thus, practically the role of government in the existing complex stage of civilization is undeniably important. We understand it more if we question why some of us advocate for a 'no government'. The possible reasons are that they think the government is over regulatory or that it does its tasks inefficiently. While there are others who criticize the present governments and expect them to be more active. We shall delve into this perspective a little later in our discussion. First, we shall explore the historical, philosophical and economic perspectives to the debate on the need for a government.
WHAT BRAINIACS IN HISTORY HAD TO SAY?
Some of the strongest arguments on the need for a government come from the 19th-century works of philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. In 'Leviathan', Thomas Hobbes presented a view of humankind before the invention of government where man existed in a "state of nature" dictated by life-sustaining needs. In the absence of authority, each person acted like a sovereign. Due to the scarcity of resources this state of nature was characterized by an incessant war which he described as "every man against every other man". This violence and uncertainty of life in this state motivated people to form governments.
John Locke agreed with Hobbes that individuals in the nature of state would naturally and rationally come to form a government but objected that they do not unconditionally submit their sovereignty. He argued that people remained the source of governmental power and so the government was accountable to the people. These historical and philosophical arguments have immensely substantiated on the need of government.
NO BUSINESS OF THE GOVERNMENT TO BE IN BUSINESS
But another vivid perspective is on the role of government in the economy. In the 19th century the idea of an invisible hand, free-market i.e. laissez-faire reflected an idea of limited regulation or governance in the economy as it came to be believed (in the 'Wealth of Nations') that leaving the economy alone will produce the greatest levels of prosperity and happiness possible. But considering the present world majorly all countries are in favour of some little government intervention which has come to be justified in case there is a market failure (depression of 1929 and the recession of 2008 for example) due to monopolies, under-provision of public goods, incompetent markets (as in the case of pre-1991 India), high unemployment or inflation etc.
WELFARE AND WELFARE. HEARD OF FABIAN SOCIALISM?
Besides this, it is evident from the huge disparities in income and wealth distributions that even a free market is incapable of providing efficient results for society. Thus a government carries out social and economic policies to ensure equality of opportunity and basic civil liberties and rights. Additionally, the market assumes that people will behave rationally but mostly they make decisions and choices contrary to their own interests like not wearing a helmet. Thus a government interferes to protect the individual from himself and from harming others. Thereby preventing an economic loss.
PRIVATE IS QUALITY, GOVERNMENT IS GOVERNMENT?
The argument that adds dynamism to the debate is the one which calls the presence of a government as unnecessary. It has been argued from this section of scholars that although the government provides numerous services, it has not qualitatively performed better in comparison to the private sector. According to them for every service, a government provides there are examples of private organizations providing the same service at a lesser cost. In many cases, the government has outsourced performance of those services to the private sector as it saves cost.
Taking the example of sanitation, there are many countries where there are dozens of privately owned sanitation companies operating in every city despite the presence of government-funded sanitation where they provide more frequent disposal.
Another area of examination can be roads. In India, though the building of roads is publicly funded, these are built and repaired by private contractors. Europe has thousands of such roads which are not just privately built but privately owned and funded. Profit remains a larger incentive for them. There is also a thriving private arbitration in the mediation industry in many other countries. These are far less expensive and time-consuming. Private security and national defence, Charities and philanthropies, and environmental protection are the other areas too wherein the marginal opportunity provided private organizations have shown their might.
It, however, is the criticism of the profit incentive drive of such institutions that demand a governing balance or limited regulation through the presence of a government. In polity as well the idea of this balance is struck by our esteemed constitution that has instilled the ideas of constitutionalism. Thereby limiting the exponential powers of a government. This addresses the concerns of those who criticize governments for their overreach and over regulations.
BRIGHTER SIDE OF THIS CHAPTER :)
According to political scientists, a government is a constant struggle to balance liberty and order. In the absence of a government, human liberties could not be fully enjoyed as there would be limits on the expression of liberty.
A government does not just act as an independent third party that settles disputes but facilitates cooperation between individuals that would have been otherwise not possible. At this hour we do also observe a transforming role of government as a Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent (SMART); through e-governance, citizen charters, grievance redressal, RTI etc.
So the discussion mutually stands on a conclusion that government and politics are the most complex forms of human interaction that a nation needs in varied forms at different times.
1. thisnation.com- Professor Mott on Why do we need a government.
2. Indian Economy- Ramesh Singh Chapter 1
3. Crash course on Introduction to US polity
4. IGNOU- History MA coursebook
5. Gist from Quora answers