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Governing philosophy

Government, even local government, is rooted in philosophy, and playwright David Mamet wrote an essay for The Village Voice about how his philosophy has changed over the years.

“As a child of the ’60s, I accepted as an article of faith that government is corrupt, that business is exploitative, and that people are generally good at heart. These cherished precepts had, over the years, become ingrained as increasingly impracticable prejudices. Why do I say impracticable? Because although I still held these beliefs, I no longer applied them in my life. How do I know? My wife informed me.…in my life, a brief review revealed, everything was not always wrong, and neither was nor is always wrong in the community in which I live, or in my country. Further, it was not always wrong in previous communities in which I lived, and among the various and mobile classes of which I was at various times a part.”

What does all this have to do with county government? Not much, maybe, but Mamet’s meandering discussion of government and human nature brings to mind for me what seems to be the dominant philosophy among Linn County officials, of local government as a “service provider.” The taxpaying public is the customers, and the government is being paid to do things for the customers. Spend ten minutes at the Linn County Administrative Office Building, and you’ll hear someone say they’re providing services. And yes, they are. It’s a huge part of the need for government — taking care of roads, keeping records and administering programs that help people.

But government does something else, that you won’t hear as much about over at 930 First St. SW: wield power. As obvious as it sounds, government has authority — to tax, to spend people’s money in certain ways, to settle disputes, change things and make rules. In essence, the more services Linn County government provides, the more power the government has over people’s lives.

Mamet says he’s become less convinced of the goodness of government over the years, but he’s no Rush Limbaugh. The essay is titled “Why I am No Longer a ‘Brain-Dead Liberal,'” but don’t be alarmed. It isn’t nearly as partisan as that sounds.

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