The oldest and simplest justification for government is as protector: protecting citizens from violence.
Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan describes a world of unrelenting insecurity without a government to provide the safety of law and order, protecting citizens from each other and from foreign foes. The horrors of little or no government to provide that function are on global display in the world’s many fragile states and essentially ungoverned regions. And indeed, when the chaos of war and disorder mounts too high, citizens will choose even despotic and fanatic governments, such as the Taliban and ISIS, over the depredations of warring bands.
The idea of government as protector requires taxes to fund, train and equip an army and a police force; to build courts and jails; and to elect or appoint the officials to pass and implement the laws citizens must not break. Regarding foreign threats, government as protector requires the ability to meet and treat with other governments as well as to fight them. This minimalist view of government is clearly on display in the early days of the American Republic, comprised of the President, Congress, Supreme Court and departments of Treasury, War, State and Justice.
The concept of government as provider comes next: government as provider of goods and services that individuals cannot provide individually for themselves. Government in this conception is the solution to collective action problems, the medium through which citizens create public goods that benefit everyone, but that are also subject to free-rider problems without some collective compulsion.
The basic economic infrastructure of human connectivity falls into this category: the means of physical travel, such as roads, bridges and ports of all kinds, and increasingly the means of virtual travel, such as broadband. All of this infrastructure can be, and typically initially is, provided by private entrepreneurs who see an opportunity to build a road, say, and charge users a toll, but the capital necessary is so great and the public benefit so obvious that ultimately the government takes over.
A more expansive concept of government as provider is the social welfare state: government can cushion the inability of citizens to provide for themselves, particularly in the vulnerable conditions of youth, old age, sickness, disability and unemployment due to economic forces beyond their control. As the welfare state has evolved, its critics have come to see it more as a protector from the harsh results of capitalism, or perhaps as a means of protecting the wealthy from the political rage of the dispossessed. At its best, however, it is providing an infrastructure of care to enable citizens to flourish socially and economically in the same way that an infrastructure of competition does. It provides a social security that enables citizens to create their own economic security.
The future of government builds on these foundations of protecting and providing. Government will continue to protect citizens from violence and from the worst vicissitudes of life. Government will continue to provide public goods, at a level necessary to ensure a globally competitive economy and a well-functioning society. But wherever possible, government should invest in citizen capabilities to enable them to provide for themselves in rapidly and continually changing circumstances.
Not surprisingly, this vision of government as investor comes from a deeply entrepreneurial culture. Technology reporter Gregory Ferenstein has polled leading Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and concluded that they “want the government to be an investor in citizens, rather than as a protector from capitalism. They want the government to heavily fund education, encourage more active citizenship, pursue binding international trade alliances and open borders to all immigrants.” In the words of Alphabet Chairman Eric Schmidt: “The combination of innovation, empowerment and creativity will be our solution.”
This celebration of human capacity is a welcome antidote to widespread pessimism about the capacity of government to meet current national and global economic, security, demographic and environmental challenges. Put into practice, however, government as investor will mean more than simply funding schools and opening borders. If government is to assume that in the main citizens can solve themselves more efficiently and effectively than government can provide for them, it will have to invest not only in the cultivation of citizen capabilities, but also in the provision of the resources and infrastructure to allow citizens to succeed at scale.
The most important priority of government as investor is indeed education, but education cradle-to-grave. The first five years are particularly essential, as the brain development in those years determines how well children will be able to learn and process what they learn for the rest of their lives. The government will thus have to invest in an entire infrastructure of child development from pregnancy through the beginning of formal schooling, including child nutrition and health, parenting classes, home visits and developmentally appropriate early education programmes. The teenage years are another period of brain development where special programmes, coaching and family support are likely to be needed. Investment in education will fall on barren ground if brains are not capable of receiving and absorbing it. Moreover, meaningful opportunities for continuing education must be available to citizens over the course of their lives, as jobs change rapidly and the acquisition of knowledge accelerates.
Even well-educated citizens, however, cannot live up to their full potential as creative thinkers and makers unless they have resources to work with. Futurists and business consultants John Hagel III, John Seeley Brown and Lang Davison argue in The Power of Pull that successful enterprises no longer design a product according to abstract specifications and push it out to customers, but rather provide a platform where individuals can find what they need and connect to whom they need to be successful. If government really wishes to invest in citizen talent, it will have to provide the same kind of “product” – platforms where citizens can shop intelligently and efficiently for everything from health insurance to educational opportunities to business licenses and potential business partners. Those platforms cannot simply be massive data dumps; they must be curated, designed and continually updated for a successful customer/citizens experience.
Finally, government as investor will have to find a way to be anti-scale. The normal venture capitalist approach to investment is to expect nine ventures to fail and one to take off and scale up. For government, however, more small initiatives that engage more citizens productively and happily are better than a few large ones. Multiple family restaurants in multiple towns are better than a few large national chains. Woven all together, citizen-enterprise in every conceivable area can create a web of national economic enterprise and at least a good part of a social safety net. But government is likely to have to do the weaving.
A government that believes in the talent and potential of its citizens and devote a large portion of its tax revenues to investing in its citizens to help them reach that potential is an attractive vision. It avoids the slowness and bureaucracy of direct government provision of services, although efficient government units can certainly compete. It recognizes that citizens are quicker and more creative at responding to change and coming up with new solutions.
But government investment will have to recognize and address the changing needs of citizens over their entire lifetimes, provide platforms to help them get the resources and make the connections they need, and see a whole set of public goods created by the sum of their deliberately many parts.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
A weekly update of what’s on the Global Agenda
On August 15, 1947, India woke up to freedom. Decades later we continue to celebrate this day when we became a free and sovereign nation. With great leaders like Gandhiji in the forefront, India won Independence through peaceful means. This day is a national holiday and the Prime Minister hoists the national flag at the Red Fort, followed by a speech which is broadcast nationally from its ramparts.
I am proud to be Indian because of our country’s achievements in space and missile technology. India has launched a number of satellites in space for helping us in weather forecast, communications, medical research, and education. The missiles such as Agni, Prithvi strengthened our nation’s security and ensured a place in the elite group of the world’s powerful countries. Moreover, our scientists have lifted India’s pride by placing our Tri-colour on the moon and are now looking for landing in the planet Mars.
S.SRI SAGANA, LKG B, SSVM World School, Coimbatore
I am a citizen of the world because I am an Indian! I am proud to be an Indian because I am aware that it is a great privilege and an immense responsibility too. I am proud to be an Indian because I know what I represent.
Vinayaka, X, Satyam International School, Bellary, Karnataka
Right to be
I am proud to be an Indian because I have the freedom to speak, write and protest against evil doings. We have the right to stand up and fight when we see human cruelty .
G. JOY ANTONIE PAUL, III, Good Shepherd English School, Karaikal, Puducherry
India is a country where people respect elders. People of India live in peace and harmony. India is the only country where there are people of different languages, religions and race, but all of them live together in harmony..
India is an integrated country where people show brotherhood among others.
Dilna, IX, Kendriya Vidyalaya, Kannur
I am proud to be an Indian because India is the largest democracy in the world. It has a civilisation that is more than 5000 years old and boasts of multiple cultural origins. There is an emerging global, scientific and technological superpower, with a diverse environment in flora and fauna.
P.N.DWARKESH, VI, SRI B.S.C.J.V School, Chennai
There is so much to being an Indian that one can never be proud enough.
The variety in languages, cultures, lifestyles, cuisines, climatic conditions, scenic beauty, architecture, traditions...It is not only our great achievers, in fields more than many, but also the common people that strive to make it better, day by day. There are already enough mentions about our great discoveries, inventions, spices, arts and craft, technological genius, media, film, advertising, medicine, finance, fashion, textiles, agriculture, self reliability and spirituality.
K.Vishnu Sai, X, Kendriya Vidyalaya No.1, Tirupati
Just love it
I am proud to be an Indian because of its rich tradition and heritage. The unity in diversity is unique to our nation. I have got tons of reasons to love my country, but the most important thing is I love my country and I need no reason for it.
Govind Pareek, X, Candlewick Public School, Jaipur
It is a land of holy rivers, beautiful mountains and dense forests. There is natural beauty in our country. It has a great ancient civilisation and culture. I am proud because of the giant strides we have made in industry, science and technology.
M. Harika, V, Ratnam Academy of Children Education, Nellore.
I am extremely proud to be an Indian because I was born here. India is a vibrant place where you will find innumerable differences co-existing. It is one of the oldest civilisations. Its myriad cultures has been an amalgamation of various civilisations without disturbing its distinct form. It gives us peace of mind that we belong to a place we can call our motherland. It will grow old but has still not lost its sheen and glitter. It has bestowed its warmth and love just like a mother does on her child.
Subasri Ashok, Grade 10, Dubai
I am proud to be Indian as we have festivals to celebrate throughout the year and in my class there are students from all religions. All of us learn from one another.
Paridhi, III, GD Goenka Public School, Rohini, Delhi.
My country with its rich heritage and tradition I say is the most beautiful nation. We are also recognised for being the world’s second largest population. But unity in diversity is the main reason for my pride in being an Indian. We have different languages, different cultures, food, clothes, and traditions and yet we stand united. Non violence, democracy, intelligence based on our high standards of education, our natural wealth, harmony, festivals, family, system, caring for the aged, service and sacrifice are some of the things that I am proud of.
Godwin Gilbert, V, Our Lady of Miracles Bethany Matriculation School, Annai Nagar,Tamil Nadu.
Surely the best
I was seven months old when our Nation celebrated its 53rd Independence Day — the first one after my birth. My grand dad used to describe the very first Independence Day celebration when he was a boy of seven and how the Tricolour was unfurled by a British Manager on the morning of August 15, 1947, at the Selaliparai tea factory premises in Valparai – Anamalai hills. My great grand dad was the Headmaster of the local school and he sang the songs Thayin ManikodiPareer and Aaduvomey, pallu paaduvomey, Aanandasudanthiram adainthuvittomenru on that memorable occasion.
I love the culture of my great nation mostly because it is secular. It is blessed with all resources. Further the climate in our country especially in my district is considered to be the best compared to other parts of the globe.
SHAJI ROSALIN A., VIII Beulah MHSS, Valparai
India is a land of diversity — in terms of religion, geography, culture and tradition. Though much exploited by foreign invaders we still have rich natural resources. I feel inspired and motivated by our freedom fighters. It is a land where most of the festivals are celebrated in the community, irrespective of religion. Our nation has a delectable cuisine, which I love.
Sharan U Karadi, IX, Excellent High School, Bijapur
I am proud to be an Indian. The reasons are many but the most important one is unity in diversity. India has varied culture and tradition, mouth watering cuisine, beautiful dances, breathtaking tourist places, different languages, the list is endless... In spite of the diversities we the children stand united.
A.S. Gopica, X A, St.Joseph's Academy, Dehradun, Uttarakhand
As an Indian- American, I am proud of both India and America. Even though I live in America, I will celebrate August 15. I have come to visit my family who reside in India and will be in India to share the joy of Independence.
Being born into a family originally from India, I also happen to have something in common with Mahatma Gandhi. My great grandfather Mr. N. Ramaratnam, was the news editor of a famous Tamil daily newspaper and he helped inform other Indians to act and also instilled in them a patriotic spirit.
The Tricolour stands as a symbol of freedom. Jawaharlal Nehru called it “a flag not only of freedom for our self, but a symbol of freedom to all people.”
India is full of talented, smart, and innovative people, making India such a wonderful place.
Karishma Muthukumar, Grade 6, Frank C. Leal Elementary, California, U.S.
I love my country .Our glorious culture, the message of truth and non-violence, multi-religious people makes me proud to be an Indian. If you travel through the country you will find different people of different religions, but every heart gives the same hospitality. In my opinion it may be the result of good in my previous birth that I am an Indian now.
G .Junaid Ahmed, IX, V.B.S, Anantapur.
History and culture
We know the greatness and richness of India. It has a long history of rich culture and tradition. Unity in diversity is a beautiful idea. India is the best example for it.The country is progressing but we have more to do. Still there are many who live in poverty. There are many children lacking education.
Joel Johnson Mathew, VIII C, Cherupushpa Bethany S.S.S., Alapuzha
I am proud to be an Indian because of its unity in diversity. India gave birth to many great people like the Buddha. Sanskrit, which is the basis for most of the European languages originated in India. Zero was invented in India.
Sai Sindhura, XI, Sri Chaitanya, Vijayawada.
Different, yet strong
I am proud to be Indian. The only country which has different religions, languages, culture which together form one nation. India is also a best example of “Unity is Strength”.
S. SARA, IX B, Velammal Vidyalaya, Theni.
India is a country of love, care and affection. In today’s world of selfishness, we in India still respect our elders, care for our mates and traditional culture. The pledge “ All Indians are Brothers and Sisters” is believed and followed by all of us. Thus, I feel very proud to be an Indian and lucky too.
Sariya Ali, X, Our Lady Of Fatima Secondary School, Aligarh