Monday, October 5, 2009

Government Intervention Isn’t Always Bad

I just got around to reading James Poniewozik’s Time magazine column from a few weeks ago on Ken Burns’ new documentary on America’s National Parks (it’s a very worthwhile read if you haven’t seen it already). Poniewozik’s point is a well-taken one given the current “tea party” temperament regarding government intervention. However, as the columnist points out, the story of the National Parks’ creation and ongoing evolution provides a good juxtaposition to all the hand-wringing about Big Brother and fears of the coming social state that seem so rampant today.

Watching segments of Burns’ marathon ode to the efforts to preserve some of the country’s most stunning natural assets over the last few weeks, I repeatedly found myself struck by the fact that the whole story is one of fight after fight after fight – first to bring each park into existence and then to preserve its integrity once established. In hindsight, given people’s carelessness and the free market’s tendency to foster exploitation, it is truly amazing that we didn’t totally trash the whole continent ... but for a few visionary and determined individuals and the application of federal power to make some good things happen, we surely would have.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not generally pro big government, but Poniewozik is right in pointing out that there are times and places in history when government intervention is the right way to go and, occasionally, the needs of all – the greater good – outweigh those of the few. And sometimes, just sometimes, only big government is able to successfully ensure the interests of all in the face of strong local self-interest and perpetually self-centered business practices.

I wish the free market (i.e., those powerful businesses) could be trusted to do the right thing, but both history and current events make the naivete of that wish very clear. It simply doesn’t happen. In these times of renewed government intervention, it’s food for thought.

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