The Atlantic (2 June 2013) asks why do we even need a government these days--why not just have a virtual one--where you just "buy" the government you want, the size, the capabilities, and you tailor it for your needs?
The author sees government as menu-driven, like a videogame, by a "rotating dial," where you choose whatever government suites you best.
In this world of virtual government, people are seen turning to private sector alternatives to get capabilities, customer service, and prices that are better than the government's--in some cases, this may actually work, like with private insurance.
However, this article goes beyond this notion to where government is not tied to the physical boundaries of the real world, but rather to virtual jurisdictions, citizenship, and even values held or abrogated.
While I agree that raising the bar on government is a good thing--expect more for less--and partnering with the private sector can make government more efficient, the idea of wholesale shopping government around is quite ludicrous:
- Will we hire mercenaries instead of having an armed forces?
- Will we rely solely on CEOs to conduct our diplomacy?
- Will justice be doled out by vigilantes?
- Will private inspectors alone regulate food, drug, and the financial system?
While compared to an iPad wheel for making service selections, Government is not the same as a library of songs or movies that one scrolls through to pick and choose what one likes and dislikes.
Like the old joke about the difference between family and friends...you can choose your friends, but you can't just choose your family!
While government can provide services virtually, it cannot be a government entirely sliced up by choice--where you opt-in for what you like and opt-out for what you don't--if that were the case, we would all selfishly take and never contribute to the greater good.
For example, "Hey, I like social entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare, but I don't particularly care for contributing to space exploration or research and development for certain diseases that I may not be genetically predisposed to."
There is a civic commons where we must share--the prime example is a fire department. If I choose not to contribute, then the fire department still has to come to put out the fire or else it can spread to others.
In the end, we are not just a collective of individuals, but a nation bound together by core values and beliefs, and shared interests and investments in the future--and where by sharing the risks and burdens, we fall or rise together.
Like anything that you are seriously apart of--family, religion, organizations, and work--we take the good and work on the bad, rather than just immaturely throwing it all or in innumerable parts away.
Yes, government should only do functions that are inherently governmental, and we should avail ourselves of all the talent and expertise in the private sector for the rest, but no, we should not wholly think that we can replace government with loose and shifting ties on the Internet and purely profit-driven private sector players.
If Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda serving as modern virtual governments are the best examples of what can be accomplished, then we should all be running (not walking) to good 'ol Democracy of the U.S. of A.
Virtual government as a way to provision services as well as competition and augmentation by the private sector is great, but becoming a stateless state will not solve the large and complex problems we must face, not alone, but together.
Even though bureaucratic waste and abuse is bad, the system of debate, negotiation, checks and balances, basic human rights, and voting is good, and we should not just throw out the precious baby with the dirty bathwater. ;-)
(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)