Wednesday, September 21, 2016

When is a non-government a government?

As I've been observing the continuing skirmishes between the European Union and various business (notably technology businesses), something struck me.

On its simplest level, each of these skirmishes can be characterized as battles between a government and a business. We know what a business is, but I figured I'd ask myself what a government is - especially given the unique nature of the European Union itself.

As a starting point, I looked at Merriam-Webster's definition. This definition basically talks about persons or systems or processes that "control and make decisions" for a political unit such as a country or state. The definition doesn't say anything about elections or citizens or democracy, because many governments in the world don't have elections or citizen participation; North Korea comes to mind. So based upon Merriam-Webster's definition, the people/systems/processes associated with Kim Jong Un constitute the government of North Korea, and the people/systems/processes associated with Barack Obama and Paul Ryan and others constitute the government of the United States.

But are there other entities that "control and make decisions"?

Even if you don't completely subscribe to conspiracy theories, there are non-governmental authorities that control and make decisions in my country. It's open to debate whether the Federal Reserve is governmental or non-governmental, but the three credit bureaus are clearly non-governmental.

And those technical companies that are the bane of EU bureaucrats certainly make decisions that could be characterized as controlling. Take the "right to be forgotten." The EU government may proclaim that a certain person may be deleted from search engine results, but even if Google were to agree to delete those results for Europeans accessing (rather than or, the European can simply tunnel to a US domain provider and access to see stories of forgotten persons. And if Google were to choose to eliminate European forgotten people from ALL of its sites, then it would be taking a controlling stance against governments of the United States, which are (at least theoretically) committed to freedom of speech. Oh, and Brexit could complicate the situation.

So...what is a government?
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