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Governing For The Good: New Paper

media release
Embargoed until 21 August 2008

Governing For The Good: New Paper From Maxim Institute

The proper role of government is to protect the common good from harm, says Governing for the Good: What does it really mean? a discussion paper released today by Maxim Institute.

“Good government is one that is limited in its functions and responsibilities,” says Steve Thomas, author of the paper. “The role of the government should be limited to protecting the common good from harm, allowing people to pursue the good as indicated by the proper custom and tradition of a society.”

The discussion paper is the first in a series which “considers the basis for a just, fair and compassionate taxation system for New Zealand.” Governing for the Good provides an overview of the roles and responsibilities of government and the community, and the relationship between them.

“Understanding what government should do has clear implications for taxation,” says Mr Thomas. “Currently the level of tax collected is high, and it funds a high level of government spending. This reflects our reliance on the government to provide not only essential services, but to intervene in almost every aspect of the community. It reveals that government is doing more than it should.”

New Zealand is one of the most heavily taxed countries in the developed world, and core Crown expenses are expected to increase from $54 billion in 2007 to $69.9 billion by 2012. While tax cuts will be implemented later this year, there is little sign of any reduction of public spending.

“This level of taxation and spending, and common views of government, show that it has gone beyond protecting the common good to trying to promote a particular vision of the good,” says Thomas.

“This is shown by central government giving increasing direction to the community at large, for example by incentivising personal savings through KiwiSaver, redistributing income through Working for Families, and intervening in family life through the section 59 legislation that criminalised reasonable, non-abuse physical discipline. Yet this intrusion has largely been accepted by society.”

“Rather than looking to the community, many people’s first inclination is to turn immediately to the government to solve a problem,” says Mr Thomas. “However, there are a number of functions that communities do better than government. For example, government cannot provide care and compassion to people that need it in the same way that their families and neighbours can.”

”Debates about the level of taxation and tax cuts are healthy, but we also need to ask the deeper questions that underpin these issues: such as what is the proper role of government? What is the role and responsibility of communities? Exploring questions such as these is crucial to ensure we have a strong society,” says Steve Thomas.

“The government should be socially minded, and should step in where necessary when a community needs help. However such intervention should be for a limited time only, and should seek to enable the community to become take responsibility for its own affairs again. Government should not absorb the functions of civil society, but rather foster a culture where communities can flourish and take responsibility for themselves.”


Maxim Institute is an independent research and public policy think tank, incorporated as a charitable trust, www.maxim.org.nz.

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