Public Protection - Good Government
Updated: Jun 12
Government - indeed, society itself - came about because, as Hobbes famously wrote, individual man suffered a life that was "solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short". In manʻs natural state, he argued, "they are in a condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man".
It stands to reason, then, that the first purpose of society and of government is to protect each and every one of us. Public protection is the hallmark of good government - and when protection fails, government fails.
A recent editorial called out one such failure. A privately owned dam collapsed, flooding nearby cities and towns. The newspaperʻs editorial board lamented “a generation of politics determined to paint government as the problem, and regulation as burdensome bureaucracy that kills jobs and stifles business.” This is a familiar demonization of both government and regulations, one that has been a central tenet of Republican politics for 40 years. The point is well-made.
But consider the language we use. What we call “regulations” are more properly called “public protections.” The purpose isn’t to stifle business but to stop fraudulent, predatory, and unscrupulous business. The purpose isn’t to kill jobs but to prevent jobs from harming or even killing workers. The purpose isn’t to burden companies but to prevent unprincipled companies from endangering the public.
Their purpose is to protect the public - consumers, workers, students, even bystanders.
Language doesn’t just REFLECT what we think - it also SHAPES how we think. Say the word “regulations” - we think about constraints and limits. But say “public protections”, and we think about safety and security. Language expresses our frame of mind. The choice of words matters.
Newspapers, magazines, and talking heads can lead the charge to reverse the loss of public protection by changing its language choices. Retire the language of "regulation" and promote the language of "public protection."
Protect the Public. That’s good government.
An earlier version of this article appeared in the print edition of the Detroit Free Press on June 7, 2020.
 Hobbes, Thomas. Leviathan.
 Detroit Free Press Editorial Board. (2020, May 28). The Midland dam break, green ooze and why regulation isn't all bad. Detroit Free Press. Retrieved June 5, 2020 from https://www.freep.com/story/opinion/editorials/2020/05/28/green-ooze-midland-dam-break/5262343002/