The U.S. Constitution lays out the foundations of our society. Its purpose, as stated in the preamble, is to "form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare." According to the preamble, the first goal is to form a more perfect union, that is, a society of individuals that shares the benefits of laws, that seeks justice rather than retribution, that ensures a domestic peace that protects us from foreign invasion and that establishes common services so that individuals can succeed to the extent that their talent, skill, knowledge, efforts and good luck allow.
As for the Constitution’s instructions about protecting its citizens, it says that the government shall protect the states against invasion and riots — that is all. This does not include providing local or state police, fire or other services. Our founders reasoned that the need for these services was so obvious that local authorities would take care of them as needed. This means that something as basic as fire protection was not part of the Constitution’s provisions.
So what is the role of government? That largely depends upon the level of government to which you are referring. The answer for the national government will not be the same as it is for the state and that will not be the same as it is for a county or municipal government. Each has its own role to fill. We simply cannot assume that any one level of government should — or could — completely assume such a massive task. The short answer is that government should provide services upon which its citizens depend but that are impractical for individuals to carry out for themselves and each level should take responsibility for the services that affect its group of citizens. County and city governments are the ones that are closest to their constituents and they tend to supply the services that citizens most rely upon on a daily basis.
The fact is that the vast majority of individuals simply cannot have access to important services without "pooling" their efforts by paying taxes to corporately procure them. If I had the funds, I could pay a toll for road maintenance each time I leave my driveway; I could install a fire-suppression system inside and outside of my house; I could drill a well, test and purify my water; I could subscribe to a security and surveillance company to protect me from attack. Regardless of my resources, I would have a harder time setting up my own prisons and my own court’s whose decisions might be swept aside by someone with more resources than I have. The examples can go on and on, but the way we have chosen to live in the United States is to share the responsibility of promoting the general welfare and providing for the common defense.
The question all of us have to answer is what type of union do we want for ourselves and our posterity? Do we want government focused on limiting or on providing needed services? If the answer is "limiting," then we must ask ourselves if we are ready personally to take on the responsibility of purchasing the ones that are essential but are not provided by any level of government. In today’s world we need to think really hard about our choices and truly understand the consequences of our decisions.
Should our public services be as efficient as possible? Yes, certainly, and I expect our elected officials to find and correct inefficiencies and eliminate redundancies. Is there a tendency in any organization, private or public, to become inefficient and unresponsive over time? Yes, so constant and unending vigilance is required. But in the face of difficulties is it in the best interest of the populace to dissolve the providing organization and allow ad hoc efforts to take its place? Not if we expect consistency and predictability. In our constitutionally based, democratic republic, we are the government and it is our responsibility to live up to the goals stated in the preamble of our