portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article questions united states

government | political theory

What is the Proper Role and Function of Federal Government?

This is more a question and point of dialogue/debate, not so much a journalistic article.
I know that many radicals, in particular anarchists, advocate a bioregional economy and local, participatory democracy as a more ideal, certainly more egalitarian form of societal arrangement. Many also would agree that the national state apparatus needs to be dismantled.

But, in the wake of such large-scale catastrophes such as Hurricane Katrina, where local and regional resources are overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the destruction, we see many calling for, in fact demanding federal assistance.

My personal opinion at this stage is that, because we DO, at this particular moment in history, have the form of political arrangement that we have, and because the federal government DOES wield such disproportionate share of societal resources, it is therefore obliged to assist in such cases by mobilizing those resources for the rescue of the victims of the hurricane, for the rebuilding of the region and of people's lives, etc...

Of course, the conservative argument is that this was not the federal government's responsibility, that we don't need "big government" intruding into regional affairs, that "big government" inhibits freedom, and so on...

Of course, the conservative hypocricy is blatantly evident when we look just a little more closely at what, exactly, they mean by "big government." What they mean is "we don't think the federal government ought to help citizens in need." Of course, a BIG MILITARY is no problem. BIG powers of intrusion and encroachment upon its citizens' rights is no problem. BIG subsidies to major agribusiness, airline, oil, and other industries is no problem either.

So, I guess my question, after all this rambling, is: What Would Anarchists Do? How would mutual aid and voluntary cooperation and self-organization work in a disaster situation like this? DID this actually go on in New Orleans? I'm sure it did, though I know you wouldn't hear about it in the media, which prefers to rehash the old racist myth of the "white man's burden."
Maybe a mixture with a goal 08.Sep.2005 10:11

Doesn't Matter

While i am not an anarchist (in the sense that i think you mean) i am a Marxist. i would like to live in a world that an egalitarian form of social organization is found and i would agree that a breakdown in the federal gov't would help and a local form of democracy, real not rep. democracy. but i think that is dependent on a much smaller world population. so of corse people will be calling for federal help and the gov't will focus on looters, and other bullshit that should come second to saving lives. anyways i think we need to consolidate the federal gov't into a massive system thats goal is its self-destruction so over time more and more power is turned over to the local level as infustructure is built. this is possible, we could even do it by building funding limits into gov't programs and so on anyways i like your question and i like where you are going but i think there is a middle way

Federal Gummint 08.Sep.2005 11:21

Marik marik@aracnet.com

It is my opinion that people would be much better off without an all encompassing, all-knowing federal government. Just because people ask from assistance from the Fed doesn't justify it's existence however. They have every right to ask, it was built on their, and their ancestors tax money. It should be there for them. However, it obviously isn't.

I too, like the commenter above, believe in a system that is free from exploitation, which would require the disintegration of the Federal government and probably state government. The author asked, "What Would Anarchists Do? How would mutual aid and voluntary cooperation and self-organization work in a disaster situation like this?"
I think it would work much better than the capitalist solution of tossing money at the situation. Rebuilding and relocating such a large area is extremely costly. However, in a supposed Anarchist or Marxist environment it would be irrelevant (the cost that is.) There would be no bottom line to watch out for when trying to rebuild, etc etc. That merely leaves the problem of volunteers and actual work to be done. Personally, I think since it's happening now, it would happen under a different environment.

Also, I'd like to point out that the extent of the damage is directly related to the system we live in. The hardest hit were the working and non-working poor. The rich, whose homes were already on higher elevation, had the resources and opportunities to leave, while those without any way of transporting themselves out (read: the poor working class) were left to suffer, or perhaps penned up in the Astrodome like so much cattle. Notice how the federal authorities, those in control of the Coast guard and National guard, are more concerened with stopping looting. Kind of ridiculous if you think about it. These people are simply trying to survive and the Police are trying to stop them.

Our Founding Fathers Debated This A Lot 08.Sep.2005 18:39


The concepts of individualism vs state, of free-markets vs regulation, of the degree to which popular acceptance of dominant religion should be separated from the state are probably the oldest arguments in American history.

Even Adam Smith, the so-called "father of capitalism" argued for government regulation of market forces. Smith himself was a member of the Physiocratic movement, which was loosely tied to Freemasonry as the dominant alternative to the Holy Roman Empire of Catholicism that represented the base tincture of Western culture for hundreds of years. Many prominent economists through the years--Keynes, Veblen, Ricardo--have echoed the sentiment. So since capitalism and the balance between private and public well-being is the foundation of American society, which must be said helped promote the cause of individual rights and democracy, regulation of the market place to address imbalances in supply and demand, wealth accumulation, etc. Is the prime role of government.

Secondary to that is cultivating a regulatory environment that nurtures the creation of wealth, prior to any theories as to its proper distribution; the implication of which is the premise of the prior paragraph's assertion. This role implies the infrastructure--roads, ports, schools, sustainability of harvest, etc.--that foster the secular integrity of the nation that is inherited by future generations.

The final role is the security of such equilibrium state of individualism and collectivism, market forces as shaped by policy, and infrastructure. This is what today is but a polite euphemism when we say, "National defense."

A very interesting question... 09.Sep.2005 02:43


I'm not really an Anarchist either, and certainly not a Marxist - I'd call myself a Jeffersonian libertarian (small "l"!) - but I generally agree with the above posts: The federal government is not needed here!
At first it might look otherwise. People have gotten so used to being babysit by the almighty federal gov't that that's where they think they have to turn first. And the feds justify their own existence this way. The feds steal our money first and then make us feel grateful when (or if) we get it back. That's their twisted logic. They steal our tax dollars and then when we expect them to provide us with the money that they claim to have taken from us for "our own good" they make us believe that we "need" them and that they are doing us a favor, or that we'd be lost without them. Furthermore, they wield immense power with all that money, and if we don't do as they say, they'll just refuse to give us "our" money. If all the money wasted by the bloated federal government was left to the states, we the people in the states would be better equipped to help ourselves.

With a weak federal government the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, etc. would have full control over their National Guard troops. So they wouldn't be bogged down in Iraq under federal control while their services are really needed at home. Also, every state's National Guard would be better equipped because we wouldn't need to waste billions of $$ to finance a standing federal army. Governors from nearby states could help out by dispatching support from their respective National Guards. There would be no need to have FEMA or whatever federal bureaucratic body that only serves to slow things down because everyone has been conditioned to be paralyzed until they are told what to do by FEMA. That's what happened here, they were all waiting for their cue from FEMA, whose guys had fallen asleep at the wheel.

The humanitarian crisis would be taken care of by local and national charities. They would be providing help funded by private donations from caring people around the country much like the Red Cross and others are now. Again, we don't need FEMA to tell the Red Cross where to go and what to do. And without having the feds stealing people's money, more people would be able and willing to give. But as it is now, many people don't feel the need to donate because they feel that they've already paid an arm and a leg to the feds in taxes. So they think it should be up to the feds now to put that money to a good use.

Sure, this is just a simplified description, but I think it answers your question.

the marketplace will figure it out 09.Sep.2005 04:58

thinking too much is anti-american

> The humanitarian crisis would be taken care of by local and national charities.

Hmmm, are you going to make a contractual commitment to that effect?

Or is this more of a campaign promise?

What If-s 09.Sep.2005 11:34

ay, i'm no anachist, but...

Remember that the People, through Anarchic organization and spontaneous cooperation, have been the ONLY thing to help these People.

Disaster relief is one of a few appropriate realms for the Federals, but a military response is beyond shameful and inappropriate, it is criminal. Where were the Civil Authorities and agencies to handle the situation? Where were the red crosses? Most citizens believe that something like aid in recovery from a disaster is implicit in the Federal mandate. Most citizens, though, have been asleep in the back seat since sometime in the seventies when this most recent Putsch was set into motion. We are now supposed to accept that our fates ought to be left in the hands of philanthropists while Halliburton "reconstructs" the South? Inept reporting points to inept diplomats who point at each other. People continue to suffer and the organization holding the body-bag gets another fifty billion. We are now learning that FEMA's brand of help looks a lot like the warm end of an M-16.

This was no mere sell-out, this was extortion.

Seizure of property and resources, marines in our streets, forced removals, ecological destruction...
Coming soon to a great American city near you.

Like a Garden of Earthly Delights, Heaven, Now, and Hell exist in all times and places. There is no real separation. The so-called first world is made up of a tiny fraction of the human population. The third world is anyplace that the poor people live. The second world is now only a fence - to sit on, thoughtfully, or pull down. I mean "What if I weren't standing in front of this firing squad" probably never did anyone much good. I say either enjoy the hell out of that cigarette, or make your move.