I grew up in suburbia, and have spent various parts of my life in small towns, a Southern city, and in rural Indiana. Moving may be a hassle, but new experiences in new locations provide wonderful opportunities to learn and explore. That’s certainly true as I adjust to life in New York City, a vastly different environment than anything I’ve tried before.
Living in the city, my wife and I have encountered government as never before. We rely on the subway to get around, enjoy strolls through Central Park, routinely see police officers and traffic cops, and have heard about city regulations on just about everything we ask about. Many of the rules and regulations (but not all) make sense.
Because government is so visible in the city, many who live here have a hard time grasping why so many other Americans see government as, at best, a necessary evil. It’s not really a philosophical view or an ideology so much as just the practical reality of day to day life.
But, when I’ve lived in rural settings, the day to day reality was entirely different. People in such settings rarely encounter government and instead see a society guided by community organizations, churches, helpful neighbors, and informal arrangements. When there’s a problem to be solved, people get together and solve it. Government rules and regulations from a distant capital are often mocked as unrealistic and intrusive.
For people in such settings, it’s impossible to understand why some people think government should have the right to intrude on just about anything that involves day-to-day life.
In reality, both imagined experiences are incomplete. The heavy government presence in New York blinds many to just how much the vibrant informal society and business community do to make the city work. And, in rural areas, the reverse is true. While government plays a background role, all the other organizations and neighborhood activity typically obscure it.
A healthy society requires leadership from all organizations and individuals in the community. It cannot survive with an overly dominant government or without any government. It cannot survive without individuals, community organizations, and businesses working together and making their world just a little bit better. But, as should be obvious to all, the right mix of leadership depends upon the community. What works in New York City will not work in rural Indiana.
That bit of common sense wisdom is often missing from our national political dialogue. Too often we carry out national political debates as extensions of our local experience. People who live in cities often expect the government to regulate everything that moves and distrust those who advocate any other solutions. Those who live outside the cities typically see a government that already is doing too much and are equally distrustful of other views.
We can never resolve these differences at the national level. No matter how much some in DC want to believe it, one size fits all solutions can’t possibly work in a wonderfully diverse country like the United States. Instead, we should work to return decision making closer to home. Let every community create the leadership mix and government role that makes sense in their corner of the world. And, then, let people vote with their feet to decide what works best for them