No such thing as government in the singular

I find that most people don’t understand government.

Partly that’s because there’s no such thing as “government,” in the singular, monolithic sense of the word. There are many “governments,” plural. There are federal, state and local governments. The executive vies with the legislature and the judiciary. Departments within the executive sometimes compete with each other for scarce tax dollars. Each division has its own mission, and sometimes missions overlap. There are many governments, and they all fight for turf.

Take our city, for example. We have a Bicycle and Pedestrian Safety Commission. We have a Traffic Commission. We have an office of Parking Enforcement. And we have a public transit corporation. Where these entities converge, the city as a whole must balance the interests of pedestrians, cyclists, private car drivers and public buses. Say a local-loop bus would alleviate a lack of “adequate” parking in the center of town. Is that a bus issue or a parking issue?

Most citizens don’t pay close enough attention to their governments to make such fine distinctions between them. They become confused, lost, don’t know who to ask. They become distrustful and suspicious. It’s easier to lump them all together, throw up one’s hands, and declare the government to be no good.

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