Government is an entity the existence of which can only be justified on an ethical basis. More precisely, some argument must be made either in a consequentialist sense or in a deontological schema, to argue that a given government should exist. It is not an entity with any epistemological difficulties - none deny its existence as a physical object, or seek a metaphysical essence that defines it in accordance with profound deterministic laws. In fact, government seems to have inalienable presense. It is not in absolute question except among the minority who argue that it is possible for it to not exist. Instead, the argument for government is an argument for a particular kind of government as compared to another.
That being said, the argument for government is inseparable from the nature of the government. Since any government is nothing more than structural relationships and human personalities, these factors at a given point in history, real or theoretical, shape the argument, ruling out some forms of Government and making others more appealing. Because it is so human, Government ends up being more than what is official, inseparable from the society it is embedded in and responding in part to the political power of unofficial individuals and organizations.
From the available alternatives for making ethical evaluation as given at the outset, the deontological schema does not seem sufficient. In the absence of profound religious belief, it is hard to imagine a set of dictates that form the transcendental rules needed to make evaluations of government on a deontological basis. The process oriented arguments such as arguments for democracy, the use of principles like the categorical imperative or the veil of ignorance are not sufficient because though they define criteria for evaluating governments in terms of the means by which decisions are made, there is still another step of logical immediacy that must be taken by whomever is tasked with the decision. This step is to turn the deontological principle into a consequentialist policy goal so that policy consequences can be evaluated as either in accordance or dischordance with the governing principle.
The consequence value of anything that can be evaluated ethically is the sum of all future possibilities multiplied by their probability. Though the metric by which consequences are valued against each other need not be known absolutely, if consequences are to be ranked against each other, the entirety of the consequence space, when assigned values in the chosen metric, must be bounded. This is because any given consequence that gives more than zero probability to any unbounded point would cause the future possibilities sum for its corresponding region to diverge.
Ethical evaluations are a property of actions. Anything that is evaluated ethically must be turned into a bundle of actions. Thus, to judge an individual, that person must be reduced to their action history and or future; to judge a policy or even a government as a whole, is to reduce each policy to a bundle of action predictions. Since the action bundle abandons its source prior to evaluation, any two governments are essentially evaluated by the same underlying criteria.
So, if possible governments are to be ranked against each other for purposes of determining public policy, this amounts to ranking policies against each other. In turn, the policies are evaluated based on the action bundles that they contain. Action bundles are evaluated based on consequence values that in turn define policy goals. Thus, governments are ranked against each other according to the degree to which they achieve the defined policy goals.
Therefore, a government considering new laws is not constrained by the spirit of its existing laws. Existing laws are valuable as objects to be reverse engineered in an effort to determine previous policy goals and improve the consequence value functions. However, existing laws are not deontological principles constraining government legislation. Rights as defined by government do not create, of themselves, arguments against legislation that would curtail them. Tiered legal systems, such as those with constitutional procedure restrictions, exert force through their restrictions on policies and action bundles, not through any alteration to the consequence value function.
This confusion is felt throughout contemporary government systems, in which the policy goal itself is often erroneously defined down in scope to meet available resources. When government sets about to address some social issue, such as poverty, it is best to declare the total level of need, prior to the determination of how much of that need can be addressed. In this way, it is easy to evaluate the policy trade-offs of providing more resources to a given program.
As mentioned above, many aspects of government are informal. The Government in the United States has a responsibility - just as sacred as its guarantee of freedom of the press - to ensure that mass starvation does not occur. However, this responsibility is left entirely to privately operating farmers, with some level of regulation. Such arrangements are typical for many sectors of the US economy. When such a sector is confronted by its own inadequacy according to some policy goal such as an unmet level of need, the Government has more than simply the right to intervene in that sector of the private market, but an obligation to do so. These "private markets" are merely delegations of control by government, to achieve policy goals of that government in an efficient manner.
The history of economic consensus in the academic discipline is entirely radical in nature. Those who are convinced that the free market is superior are, by and large, relying on ridiculous metrics. In actuality, the radical position has won not through demonstration of superior benefit, but through the disproof of fantastical harms arising from proposed types of market intervention by government. For instance, were the government to provide 1000 meals for the needy, it would be the duty of the opponent of such a policy to argue that moral equivalent of more than 1000 hungry mouths will be deprived through such an action. The same holds true for all manner of comparable criteria or interrelations of different values. Those that fear nebulous reductions of efficiency or freedom through such a trade off are guilty of a certain kind of vanity, the roots of which can probably be traced to dystopian novels.
By directing an agency to limit services through revisions of the very definition of need is to obfuscate the very goal that justifies the existence of that agency. The goals of Government should be to meet everyone's basic needs, to have no unpleasant labor, to provide for the safety of all, to ensure the total preservation of the environment, to further education among all members of society, etc. This is the only way to see the trade offs behind policy proposals for what they truly are. To decry such metrics as Utopian is simply an admission of a lack of understanding of the process of thought itself. To argue that taxation is theft is to invite ridicule. To say that the Government cannot afford to provide a service is merely to say that this service is on the margin and therefore the least important of all things on which money is currently being spent in the entirety of the society, a situation that almost never occurs in substantive policy discussions.
For sake of clarity, I'll now describe a few of the most effective policies for our current malaise.
1) Curtailment of the workweek. This policy is effective for reducing unemployment. Reduction to the workweek creates an incentive for employers to increase the number of employees. This of course represents a loss of income to existing workers, but it reduces the unemployment rate. Clearly it is better to have jobs for those without them than to have more money for those who already have jobs, so from an ethical standpoint this is an excellent policy. Furthermore, when France reduced its workweek, it actually had the effect of reducing the budget deficit as well, because it took so many people off of the unemployment rolls.
2) Lowering (not raising) the retirement age. Many, many individuals who are currently working in their 60s should be allowed to retire with the full benefits. A significant portion of these people have spent much more than 25 years of their lives working. Not only do they deserve a break, but younger people deserve to take the reins. Such a policy will help to alleviate so many social problems, it is really a shame that congress cannot find the money for such a program.
3) Free State undergraduate college with equivalent vouchers for private institutions. Once again, the crippling effect that the buildup of college debt has had on consumer spending and the quality of life of younger Americans should justify the creation of a free college system. The money for it could come from rich.
When a politician argues that there is no funding left in the budget, he does not realize the meanings of what he speaks. When he speaks to the populace, both speaker and audience proceed under the medieval notion that money is so tight that none is left to go around, that all of society is going without any luxury, that outcomes cannot be improved. None of these individuals know the first shred of economics. Their pride will not allow them to admit this when pressed, but in the end they cannot escape their own unclear train of thought. How else is such deference toward wealth in the face of chronic poverty to be explained?