What is the Nature and Purpose of Government?


Once upon a time there was a local council, and the local council decided to put some public lavatories on the high street.

This was very much the sort of thing that the towns-people had elected the council to do. They all agreed that there should be public amenities; and they all agreed that someone had to decide whether the toilets should be on the high street or in the park, and they didn't want to waste any of their own time thinking about water mains and planning permissions.

Some of them said 'Actually, there is already a Gents in the bus-station; wouldn't it be better to spend the money re-furbishing the swimming pool?' but having voted the council in, they were happy to let the council make decisions on their behalf—at any rate, until the next election.

So, the council put up a neat building made of red bricks, and bought an extra large packet of those green tiles to decorate it with, and put up signs with little women which looked like men and little men which looked like women and planted a big hedge around it in case anyone accidentally left the door open and found condom machines and tampon machines and hand-dryers which actually worked, at least for the first day or two. With the money that was left over, the Mayor decided to hire a part-time Municipal Toilet Inspector whose job it was to visit the little room from time to time to make sure that no misuse was being made of the facilities. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Then the council sent out a rate demand for 16.20. The towns-people moaned and grumbled, but they took out their cheque-books and paid up. No-one likes paying tax, but they knew that if they didn't, the council would send the local policeman, Ernest Dixon-Plod to their house, and drag them off to the Magistrates Court on the high-street, where they would stay until they had paid unto the uttermost farthing. Besides which, they knew that parks and bus stations and libraries and toilets cost money, and that it was fair enough that everyone should pay their share.

On New Years Day, when the Municipal Toilet Inspector started doing his rounds he saw a scene which froze his blood and chilled his liquid soap. Some drunks from the Cat and Fiddle had been into the Gents after the pre-millennial revellery the previous night. They had used up all the paper towels, taken away the soap, and left the taps running. Even worse, some young yobbos from the Grammar School of St Hilda the Immaculate had vandalised the cistern and written 'Miss Augustus is the daughter of a cow' on the wall with a fluorescent yellow felt tip. The Toilet Inspector had to spend hours cleaning things up, and the facility was closed all day.

Ernest Dixon-Plodd left no stone unturned, and his entire constabulary of two officers worked night and day until the following afternoon, they apprehended the guilty men. The drunks were fined 5 each and ordered to pay 2.20 costs, and the schoolboys were invited to attend a really intense parent-teacher counselling session, and everyone lived happily ever after.

But the Municipal Toilet Inspector was not satisfied. He had promised the Mayor that he would keep the borough facilities open and clean at all times; he felt that he had neglected his sworn duty in this case. It depressed him to know that ordinary decent townsfolk had been excluded from the toilets on New Years Day, and he thought long and hard about he could make sure that nothing so terrible would ever happen again.

He walked up the hill to the big Town Hall in order to present his proposals to the Mayor in person. The Mayor was much too busy a-signing things, so instead he faxed his proposals to the borough plumbing and public health sub-committee, and this turned out to work just as well.

And so the Municipal Toilet Inspector's plan was put into operation. He placed a lock on the door of each lavatory in the town. Then, he went to each house in turn, and through the letterbox he put a brown envelope containing a shiny silver washroom key. And the sign outside the lavatory door was changed, so it now read 'The Municipal Toilet Inspector reserves the right to confiscate washroom keys from anyone misusing the facilities.' Once keys had been confiscated from the patrons of the Cat and Fiddle and about a third of the St Hilda's fifth-form, everything got back to normal. Most visitors remembered to wash down the sink after use and not to pull the chain in the station. In fact, in the whole of the next year, there was only one incidence of vandalism in the whole borough. So everyone lived happily ever after.

But as time went buy, the Municipal Toilet Inspector started to apply himself to his work with increasing zeal and vigour. Mr Banks forgot to adjust his dress before leaving, was seen on the high-street with his shirt in an embarrassingly suggestive position with respect to his fly-buttons, and had his key confiscated. Perkins Major and Perkins Minor lost their keys for giggling at the notice about the local VD clinic, the Inspector taking the view that this was for their own moral well-being. The Mayor promoted the Municipal Toilet Inspector to the more important role of Borough Hygiene Officer. He had a permanent office outside the gents, and insisted that all visitors held out their hands to show that they had washed them properly with soap. Anyone who had not washed their hands, lost their keys. One man protested that he had only gone in to look in the mirror and straighten his tie and the case dragged on in the magistrates court for weeks. But on the whole, most shoppers put up with the new rules, and even came to accept it. 'It's their toilet,' they said 'I suppose they can make any silly rules about who can use it that they want to.'

Finally, it was time for the local election. The Mayor made the Borough Hygiene Initiative a central plank of his campaign. He announced his intention to employ additional Borough Hygiene Officers, and to give them new, more far-reaching powers under the overall control of a Community Cleanliness Enforcer. He described in dramatic terms how the high street had been plagued by people with dirty hands, and how he had given everyone in the borough the right to cleanliness. And then he unveiled his new plan, a brilliant plan that would change the town in time for the next millennium.

'In order to ensure that everyone washes their hands,' he said 'In order to ensure that there is not one—not even one—dirty person in our whole municipality, we intend to put a toilet on every street corner, and to employ whole legions of Community Cleanliness Enforcers under the control of a Disinfectant Tsar.' (Here, the Borough Health Inspector smiled, proudly.) 'And when we have done this, private lavatories will be phased out. Come the millennium, no-one will have a toilet in their house, no, nor a bath, nor a shower, nor a sink. Everyone will be forced to use the state bathrooms whether they want to or not; and everyone's ablutions will supervised by highly trained washing experts who will make sure that they scrub under the arms and behind the ears. Smelly children will be sent home from school. Shops will refuse to serve unhygienic customers. Employers will be asked to do spot checks on their employees, and anyone found to have spots will be liable to dismissal.'

Several of the people said, 'Your worship, what you do in your own toilet is your own business, if you will pardon the expression, but you have no right to tell people what to do in their own homes.'

'What's the matter' replied the mayor 'Don't you approve of personal hygiene?'

And sure enough, he was elected to the town council; and private bathrooms were phased out, and a key to the official supervised state washroom was issued to all private citizens, and withdrawn from those who misbehaved themselves.

And everyone lived happily ever after, and pissed in the street.