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Almost everyone believes that government is an essential institution, necessary to protect us from those threats we cannot counter on our own. But even if we accept that justification, it rarely describes what American government actually does, whether at the local, state, or federal level.

What exactly is the government protecting — and from whom?

Local Protection from Food Trucks

Late last year, Rachel Kennedy wanted to bring a Cuban food truck to North Kansas City, Missouri, a town of four square miles and 4,500 people. That shouldn’t have been controversial. The city agreed to allow the trucks to operate during lunchtime, and several other operators came, too. There was no reason to restrict the trucks to lunchtime, but never mind. At least for one meal a day, consumers enjoyed more choices at less cost. What could possibly go wrong?

The restaurant owners might lobby to expel the food trucks, that’s what. Choice and competition are good, except when you are an incumbent provider. M…