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Government is not the solution…

Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan famously declared that “”Government is not a solution to our problem, government is the problem.”

The partisan nature of that comment has obscured much of its veracity. Depending on the definition of the problem, and if you buy into the 1960’s counter culture claim that “If you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem”, then its pretty easy to make the case that government often is, if not the whole problem, a huge part of it.

You don’t have to be a right winger to acknowledge it. If society has a problem and government has tried to fix it through regulation and taxation, but hasn’t fixed it, then they aren’t part of the solution, and they are part of the problem.

And we can find evidence of exactly that in all sorts of places.

I could point to education, or health care, and argue for or against privatization in either sector, but the spectre of partisanship would obscure the issue as people take sides. Instead I’ll point to two talks I reecntly listened to, given by two intelligent people who don’t strike me as particularly right wing, and who connect some pretty unassailable facts in a very instructive manner.

The first is by a guy called Rob Harmon, talking about de-watering western creeks and rivers. De-watering is a bad thing. We all (or at least most of us) agree that water should stay in rivers, at least enough that they don’t run dry. You could be a left wing vegan nature lover or a right wing gun owning fly fishing hunter – it wouldn’t matter. A river without water doesn’t make sense to most people.

And yet, as Rob Harmon points out with the example of Prickly Pear Creek in Helena, Montana, what makes sense isn’t what always happens. People have argued about water rights in Prickly Pear Creek, and had lawyers involved and had legislation passed, from before the time of Custer’s Last Stand. In all seriousness, they were fighting off the Indians with one hand and suing their neighbours and lobbying government with the other. The result is that 140 years later the creek still ran dry every summer because too many people took water out.

Harmon outsourced the government’s mandate as well as its tax collecting, by privatizing it (my description, not his). He gamed the system (again, my description, not his). He got beer companies and tea companies and high tech companies to worry about their water footprint, then got water rights from farmers and ranchers, divided them into 1000 gallon increments, printed certificates for those increments, sold them to the companies and kept the water in the streams.

I guarantee that those companies didn’t cut their profits. They used the improved water footprint to sell more product. Their customers gave them money, in part, to keep water in Prickly Pear Creek. The companies “taxed” some consumers and did what the government should have been doing, but couldn’t.

Conclusion? If you ahve to game the system and do the government’s work, the government should get out of the way and do less than they’re doing now, because they aren’t part of the solution in that particular instance.

And we should admit it. It the creek is dry the government’s water conservation policy ain’t working. Its not a right or left thing. It’s a wet or dry thing.

Second example, also from TEd Talks, and also from a pretty smart guy. His name is Bill Gates, he’s pro-education, and he doesn’t give the government a lot of credit. His premise is pretty simple. Governments send more than they bring in. They do it for many reasons, but they don;t do it because they give it a lot of thought. He compares the spending of California with that of Microsoft and Google, and then compares the amount of thought that goes into that spending. Microsoft and Google, which spend less than California, have an unbelieveable amount of intellectual capital inside the company deciding what the best decisions are, and tons of intellectually competent analysts second guessing them on the outside. Every decision gets a lot of attention.

State of California? Not so much.

Is Gates a simplistic “small government” advocate? Not really. He just points out that health care takes up something like 42% of a state budget. As the population grows and medicine expands its likely that the costs of medicine will rise (note that in a country like the US, where we often claim that medicine is private, the state still spends 42% on medicine. Anyway…). If the 42% increases, where does the money come from? Gates worries that it will come from cuts to education. We’re creating, he says, a war of old vs. young, and we’re doing it by not paying attention to the numbers.

California is no different from Canada. We’ve proven that throwing money at the problem doesn’t fix it. We aren’t choosing between wants and needs. We’re choosing, like California, between needs and needs. Choosing between education and healthcare, regardless of how you pay for it, is like choosing between food and water. We need both or we’ll descend into a less propserous, less civilized society.

And guess what? Health care and education have been in crisis for decades now. Government isn’t fixing the problem. Government is not the solution. We’re in an election right now. Listen to the politicians decry each other. Ignatieff isn’t really from poor Russian stock. Harper is like Darth Vader (that’s a Ralph Goodale quote, for crissakes). Coalitions are [good/evil/acceptable] even though its clear that one involving a regional party like the Bloc will be slave to a bloodsucking regional special interest group.

Recognize what is and isn’t and don’t get sucked in. This is the information age. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that what w’re doing isn’t working. We’ve got lots of smart people in this country and in this world. Let’s start trying to fix things instead of arguing over who should or shouldn’t fix things.

Government is clearly not the solution to our problems.

My name is Rob Chipman and I’m a realtor, pilot and all around super hero based in Vancouver, BC. I really enjoy flying, playing guitar and hockey, real estate and the Chilcotin.  My company is Coronet Realty Ltd., located at 3582 East Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC, V5K 2A7. I have a C-150L that I own with two other pilots, based out of Pitt Meadows. Do not hesitate to contact me by email if I can help you do anything, especially if its likely to be interesting.

12 Responses to “Government is not the solution…”

  1. Dave says:

    I think government is sometimes the solution and sometimes not. I don’t believe either extreme works. However, I do also believe we have placed too much in control of governments at present and we would be well served to take some of that power back. David Cameron had some very interesting thoughts on this.

    I think ‘central planning’ has been fairly effective when it comes to urban planning in Vancouver. I think we have built a very nice city in contrast to some of the more laissez faire cities of the US. But, our central planning has failed us in creating affordable housing. In that, government is the problem.

  2. Turkey says:

    Rob, informed voters who actually participate are the solution to the problem. There’s a very strong public anti-government sentiment, and if we can look to the states for a clue to our future, it’s only going to get worse.

    “Government is clearly not the solution to our problems” manifests itself as, “Why should I vote? They’re all worthless jerks.”

    Government, both elected and bureaucratic, needs to be re-established as a credible, honourable profession. You’re right — we need smart people, but *inside* government. Without those smart people, you’re right again: government can be a bloated, bloodsucking monster.

    If you’re arguing against partisanship, I completely agree with you. I wonder if you’re throwing out the baby with the question-period bathwater.

  3. rocketsurgery says:

    You might want to read up on the gates foundation’s impact on education before declaring it victorious.

    Bill Gates wants to overhaul America’s schools, but his imperious foundation is both damaging public education and undermining democracy.

  4. 1 says:

    any thoughts on if/how post March 18th is impacting up on things?

    i did note a number of NEW for sale signs in the hood (lots of recent solds as well, just a big flurry), but what happens NEXT?

  5. Rob says:


    “You might want to read up on the gates foundation’s impact on education before declaring it victorious”

    I didn’t call it victorius. I said he wasn’t a right winger, that education is important to him, and that I don’t think he wants to cut health care. He also points out that if 42% of the budget (which is in deficit) goes to one thing, and that line item is likely to increase, you’ll be faced with a choice of what you aren’t going to pay for. If you create a situation where you have to choose between health and education you have (at the risk of repeating myself) created a situation where you have to choose between health and education. We’re there already. Government hasn’t been able to solve the problem. I think they’re part of the problem.

    But, you raise some interesting points. First, is public education a worthy goal, if so, why, and should it continue with the current model?

    Second, what do you call democracy, and how is the Gates Foundation undermining it? Would you call it undermining if they were pursuing goals you supported?

    I’d like your input on that. The Gates Foundation isn’t unique. There are other foundations that have been gaming the system, and interestingly they are doing it in a way that both right and left could argue about (see Vivian Krause for an example).

    Thanks for the link. Interesting how words like “dissent” or “progressive” get appropriated. Thoughts?


    Government is not politics, but the two have become conflated. We can’t exist as individuals. The human species is a cooperative one.

    ““Government is clearly not the solution to our problems” manifests itself as, “Why should I vote? They’re all worthless jerks.””

    Like I said, the partisanship of Reagan’s statement has effectively obscured its veracity. If you had a business collecting garbage, and despite yeasr of business plans and raising rates and focus groups the garbage was still piling up in the street you’d conclude that the model wasn’t working and change it.

    That wouldn’t prove that cooperation for the common good (however its organized and funded) doesn’t work.

    It would prove that that particular model doesn’t work and needs to be changed.

    We can’t argue that all government is bad.

    You can’t argue that all government is good.

    You can prove that government screws up lots of stuff and is often a very big part of the problem.

    We should find where it is a problem and then think about how we can fix it. Information age, right? And yet we have an election like the one we have now where the politicians don’t get down to brass tacks.


    One question is “Is government the solution to our problems, or are we the solution to our problems?”

    Another way to look at it is :”Is government a tool for us to use, or is government an independent actor doing its own thing?”

  6. Rob says:


    Thanks again for the link. I see some interestng parallels with Vivian Krause’s story. Comments?

  7. Dave says:

    I am not sure I like the either/or question. My answer to both the question and assertion is both.

    Government is meant to be a tool to solve problems that people want solved. But it also acts independently and often against the interest of the people.

    Government can be a solution to problems. Governments have obviously solved all sorts of problems and is a necessary evil.

    I would call myself a pragmatic libertarian. Where it works, I would favour a more libertarian system, but I acknowledge that it doesn’t always work. Sometimes we do need central planning.

  8. 1 says:

    meth thinks 1/2 of reported sales right now are pre-March 18th….don’t know if this is accurate or not, but in the days ahead we should see if there is a change in pace of sales.

    also, will listings grow, or level off as Rob has projected?

  9. Rob says:


    There’s no real need to post that sort of a comment. I don’t mind you quoting people, but that sort of tone isn’t needed. Feel free to paraphrase his question minus the invective.


    I don’t mean it as an either/or sort of thing. We need central planning plenty of times,and I’m not railing against central planning.

    Right now we see, nightly, a recap of what the different parties are promising to give us if they’re elected. They’re not even talking about solving any problems.

    There’s a conclusion to be drawn from that sort of consistent action.

    • Dave says:

      I draw lots of conclusions from it. I am not sure which ones you are getting at though.

      IMO… Our government structure is based on a model from the Industrial Revolution. It’s outdated and we there are better ways to organize ourselves and our objectives.

      All the tools are here already, we just haven’t figured out how to put it all together or have the courage to give something new a try.

  10. Rob says:


    I think I agree. I also think we’re due for something new.