24th September 2021
Can a classical liberal ethically function inside a government department?
A question received:
Is it unethical to work for the government for pay in a department that is clearly unrelated to the protection of life, liberty and property? If possible, could you give an opinion on the above mentioned question with a justification of your view?
I wouldn’t say that working in a government department the functions of which are unrelated to the first order functions of government makes one’s actions unethical. If one actively supports the expansion of such functions or engages in personal corruption, ethical questions could become involved.
More importantly, even in roles that involve first order functions, following orders that breach human rights (something that happens quite a bit in real life) or engaging in corruption would be unethical. For instance, the actions of police officials in Victoria to brutalise young people in the name of “public health” are not just unethical, they are criminal.
Ayn Rand was different. She opposed big government but she did not hesitate in recommending corruption to businesses. E.g. https://www.sabhlokcity.com/2016/05/im-downgrading-ayn-rand-her-active-promotion-of-bribery-is-a-major-blot-on-her-philosophy/ – she wasn’t looking at it from the perspective of government functionaries. What are classical liberals supposed to do? Are they to abjure government jobs entirely? Obviously not. And if not, then what’s the role they should play? She did not think about this question and took extreme shortcuts in her recommendations. There was no scope for any honest and decent government functionary in her mind. And that appears to be the case with alleged “classical liberals” like Alex Tabarrok as well.
Many libertarians treat the government as a black hole with purely evil properties. The fact is that without good government there is no possibility of a prosperous human society. Singapore focused on core functions of the government and proved how quickly people can benefit.
Government functionaries play a critical role in society – whether they are able to perform their functions properly or not depends on the elected government of the day. I had no choice but to resign both my government roles – in India and Australia – since the overall framework of human rights and decency had got perverted. But I was happy enough in Australia performing my functions till March 2020 when the government became fundamentally evil.
I’d argue that the classical liberal can work inside the government in any role so long as he/she doesn’t lose sight of the bigger picture.