Duties of the government | Inquirer Opinion

Duties of the government

/ 11:46 PM July 14, 2012

The first duty of the government is “that of protecting the society from the violence and invasion of other independent societies … by means of [the] military [and the police].”

The second duty of the government is “that of protecting, as far as possible, every member of the society from injustice or oppression of every other member of it, or the duty of establishing an exact administration of justice….” Now, this duty needs to be expanded to include the sound management of market and political power, and effective handling of conflict associated with market competition and political contests, especially because they affect the ability of the government to dispose of its duties.


The third duty of the government is “that of erecting and maintaining those public institutions and public works, which […by their nature] profit could never repay the expense to any individual of small number of individuals, and which it therefore cannot be expected that any individual or small number of individuals should erect or maintain.”

In addition to the public institutions and public works “necessary for the defense of the society, and for the administration of justice, the other works and institutions of this kind are those for facilitating commerce […those for managing the environment and natural resources,] and those for […educating] the people. The institutions for instruction are of two kinds; those for the education of the youth, and those for the instruction of people of all ages.”


The reader might be surprised to discover that Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, was the one who outlined the above duties of the government.

Regrettably, there is a misplaced notion that Adam Smith did not have anything to say about the duties of the government. The fact is that Adam Smith allocated about 25 percent of his 1,000-plus page book, “An Inquiry of the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations,” (1776) to a thorough discussion on the duties of the government.

Viewed in terms of the amount of space devoted to present his ideas, the “helping hand” of the government is far more important than the notion of the “invisible hand” (which is mentioned once in the whole book; p. 485 of the Modern Library edition of the Wealth of Nations).

The duties of the government can be summarized as the formation of human capabilities and the creation and maintenance of an environment that enables all the individuals of a society to flourish on their own and to contribute to nation-building. The task of weaving disparate activities into a meaningful whole is left for the government. Edsel L. Beja Jr.

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