Just what accounts for the people’s love affair with government? Make any attempt to discuss decreasing the amount of government (let alone eliminating it entirely) in our lives and people recoil in horror.
"Well, what about roads? Don’t you think government is needed so we can have roads?" No. "OK, what about national defense? We need government to protect us from them foreigners." Why must government have a monopoly on defense services?
Government by its very nature tramples on our natural rights, yet 99 of every 100 people believe that government provides the essential framework for our lives. Why is that? Professor Daniel B. Klein an Associate Professor of Economics at Santa Clara University calls it "The People’s Romance."
In a paper entitled The People’s Romance: Why People Love Government (as much as they do), Klein has determined that people have a "yearning for encompassing sentiment coordination" by analyzing mutual coordination and focal points. In Klein’s view people have this urge (The People’s Romance) despite it denying individual self-ownership.
For many people, what makes us Americans is government intervention. It is government that provides people a "common frame of reference, a set of cultural focal points, a sense of togetherness and common experience…" Klein explains.
Thus, even those who advocate for smaller government still insist that Social Security, the US Postal Service, the public school system, public transportation, the US military and so on are required.
The key, as Klein points out is that people feel that the government is a part of them, "they fancy themselves part of the governing set."
Studies show that primitive people tend to socialize through dance and exhibit remarkable uniformity in rhythm. The beat of the drums provides the rhythm, organization and structure for the participants, who then act in uncanny unison.
Government is the coordinating drummer in today’s society, providing the authoritative leadership and direction as opposed to development by way of a spontaneous order.
Klein cites economist Adam Smith who frequently wrote; "that man yearns for coordinated sentiment like he yearns for food in his belly."
It is this encompassing coordination that Klein calls "The People’s Romance." And with government creating permanent institutions such as schools, roads and the postal service, "it determines and enforces the setting for an encompassing shared experience — or at least the myth of such experience."
This coordination always seeks to dominate and expand while requiring conformity and inclusion. Dissension will not be tolerated, The People’s Romance "wishes to stamp out sentiment discoordination."
Klein’s work gives us an insight into how our elected officials on all levels think. These politicians and the bureaucrats that work for them feel that there is "ownership of everyone by everyone, which of course means by the government. One person’s opting out of the romance really does damage the interests of the others."
Property rights and freedom are the antithesis to The People’s Romance. Thus, the government arbitrarily taxes you for the privilege of owning your own property. The People’s Romance requires coercion to stop discoordination. "It is chiefly by coercing that the government inculcates the notion of The People," Klein explains.
The People’s Romance explains why those in government, their apologists and cheerleaders so often enact legislation that harms the people. Minimum wage laws create unemployment, trade barriers make us worse off, and public schools are failing yet governments continue to expand these policies. Why? For example: "Voucher schemes undertaken in a climate of antigovernment privatism will only hasten the death of all public seeing and political judgment, enhancing the private power of individuals at the expense of a public vision of our common world," wrote political theorist Benjamin Barber in 1984. Those in government do not want individuals to have power.
To further coordinate the masses, government constantly creates scapegoats. Thus, wars are declared — War on drugs, War on Poverty, War on Illiteracy, War on Hunger, and the War on Terrorism — so as to turn indifferent individuals into passionate citizens who hate the bad guys and root for, and are a part of, the good guys.
So is there any hope for a return to a true conservative or libertarian society that America’s founders envisioned? It may already be happening, albeit slowly.
The single greatest People’s Romance indoctrination program is the public school system. But, more and more parents are opting out of the system, choosing either to home school or private schools.
We can only hope that these trends continue; civil society depends on The People’s Romance fading away.
Doug French [send him mail] is executive vice president of a Nevada bank and a policy fellow of the Nevada Policy Research Institute. He is the 2005 recipient of the Murray N. Rothbard Award from the Center for Libertarian Studies.