By Sutherland Staff


Is Government the Solution?

By Edward N. Robinson

There is a lot of talk today, as there should be, about government spending, deficits, taxes and entitlements, and what our legislators should do about them. Maybe we also need to address something that we citizens can and should fix ourselves.

The country’s founders clearly envisioned a federal government having only specified and limited powers, with all powers not specifically granted to the federal government resting instead with the state governments and the people themselves. The state governments could have whatever powers their citizens chose to grant to them. In practice, though, citizens initially chose to give relatively few powers to their states, preferring instead to keep the benefits and responsibilities of living life mostly for themselves.

At some point, many citizens began to conclude that, if they perceived a problem, the place to turn for a solution was the government. Even among self-professed conservatives, there is often an inclination to turn to the government to fix anything perceived to be a problem. This was a huge change in the conception of government, and one about which we ought to think seriously.

There are some things that only a government can sensibly handle: for example, immigration, police work, national defense, environmental regulation. But why do we think that governments should “solve” problems that we’re perfectly capable of handling for ourselves? Why aren’t these things better left to our own individual responsibility, to make the right practical or whatever judgments for ourselves? Is the universality of a governmental solution enough benefit to make up for the loss of personal choice?

Do we really need elected officials or their appointees to tell us which hairdressers do their work properly, or what foods we should and shouldn’t eat? Are those officials and appointees good at such decisions – so good that their judgments should bind us all, both as providers and as customers? Why shouldn’t one girl be able to give cornrows to another girl for pay, even if she hasn’t been to beautician school, so long as she doesn’t lie about her training? Why shouldn’t a diner be able to eat trans fats if they appeal to him and he is willing to bear the consequences (large or small)?

Is the alleged public good brought by such regulations sufficient to overcome the loss of liberty or commercial opportunity that they represent, and to warrant the implicit concession that these matters are the rightful purview of government? These are extremely important questions, as they relate quite closely to the question of whether we want to stick with the founders’ vision of a country of independent citizens who give up only small amounts of liberty and responsibility to their governments, otherwise taking care of themselves and building the economic futures they want, or whether we want to become a country of citizens who have ceded substantial portions of their freedom and responsibility to governments in order to get the universal rules that those bodies provide. The former certainly leads to more gray areas than the latter, and requires more trust in the ability of people to work routine things out sensibly for themselves, but it also allows for more innovation and adaptation, while engendering more individual responsibility, than the latter.

The author, Edward N. Robinson, has been a financial adviser to corporations, a senior executive, and a management consultant. Prior to retiring in 2006, he operated Robinson Partners, consulting CEOs on corporate strategy and mergers and acquisitions. Before that, he was an executive vice president of Texas Commerce Bank (later Chase Bank of Texas and now JPMorgan Chase), where he ran the investment banking business, and then created and ran The Private Bank; was an executive director at Azurix, an international water utility business, responsible for corporate strategy and M&A; and was a managing director at First Boston (now Credit Suisse), running the firm’s Los Angeles office and the regional M&A practice. Mr. Robinson has a B.A. from the University of Michigan and a J.D. from New York University School of Law

2. Newly Updated Essay on Right-Wing Extremism

Sutherland Institute has released an updated essay, The Poison of Extremism, in light of recent experiences during the immigration debate. Originally delivered seven years ago during a session of Sutherland’s award-winning Transcend Series, the essay defined eight characteristics of right-wing extremism in Utah.

“Right-wing political extremism is alive and well in Utah and we are committed to fighting such extremism,” Sutherland President Paul T. Mero said. “We are also committed to using Institute resources in crafting public policies designed to mitigate extremism’s harmful influence on the practices of responsible citizenship and the process of representative government.”

The three new characteristics emerging from the passionate and, oftentimes, vitriolic immigration debate are:

    • The ends justify the means
    • A failure to realize that ideas have consequences
  • A conceptual framework fueled by baseless and irrational fears

“Extremism leads people to cut off their nose to spite their face,” Mero said. “To base any political opposition to anyone who endorsed HB 116 on the premise that they are not substantively and philosophically conservative is beyond reason.”

3. Sutherland 100 Annual Dinner

For members of the Sutherland 100 Club, don’t forget to RSVP for Wednesday’s dinner at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building. You’ll be able to listen to Maggie Gallagher, chairman of National Organization for Marriage, as she updates us on the “Yes on 8” court case.

For more information about the dinner, or about the Sutherland 100 Club, click here or email Liv Moffat at


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