Big Government

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The following
is a fictitious, but predictable conversation:

Me: I
have a problem.

Other
guy: Well, I have a solution!

Me: You
have a solution?

Other
guy: You bet!

Me: But
I haven’t even told you what the problem is yet.

Other
guy: Doesn’t matter. I already have a solution for it.

Me: [sigh]
Ok, smart guy, what is my solution?

Other
guy: Why, it’s obvious — the solution to your problem is: Big
Government!

On any day
of the year, one can find editorials, blogs, opinion pieces, and
conversations anywhere and discover that the attitude exhibited
by the other guy above is very prolific. There is this unwritten
assumption that, given any problem or bad news of any kind, that
government politicians and bureaucrats know what’s best for all
of us; that anyone who works for the government is, by definition,
smarter, wiser, and has more honesty and integrity. And so, every
time something bad happens, they all respond with that all-too-predictable
knee-jerk response that, by golly, the government needs to DO SOMETHING
about it! And inevitably, the government DOES indeed do something:
it gets bigger and more powerful, and spends more money.

The purpose
of this article is to demonstrate the silliness of that mindset,
and to try to get people to think twice before responding with the
automatic knee-jerk reaction described above — in short, to try
and think “out of the box” of trying to fix every conceivable problem
known to man with that same old worn-out response: that the solution
is more laws, more regulation, more spending, more bureaucracy,
more governmental power and control over our lives and private affairs,
less freedom, and yet another “War On [fill in the blank]."

The knee-jerkers
in our society come from all walks of life. White, black, rich,
poor, conservative, liberal, it doesn't matter. They see a need,
and they assume bigger government will fill it. Never mind that
on any day of the year, boundless examples of governmental waste,
fraud, abuse, and just plain stupidity can be found everywhere.

Here’s some
classic examples: The government subsidizes tobacco companies, yet
requires warning labels on cigarette packages. Another: the government
must invade Iraq because they masterminded the 9/11 attacks and
had enough WMDs to defeat the USA. Another: the federal government’s
inability to balance its budget now adds to over a $trillion.
Each year. I could go on.

The truth
is that government is not the source of all prosperity, the
answer to all questions, the solver of all problems, the boundless
fount of wisdom and honesty. Government employees are not gods!
They are but imperfect humans subject to the same faults as the
rest of us. A better description would be that they are a pack of
blundering fools, hell-bent on accumulating power and control at
our expense. The song-writer was talking about government in that
famous line: “He can't even run his own life, I’ll be damned
if he’ll run mine!”

The Evidence

So how can
one PROVE that big government does not work? The first evidence
is the following observation: If big government is what you want,
you got it! Look around you! The U.S. federal budget is way up in
the multi-$trillions now. The federal registry contains so many
laws and regulations that it takes an entire building to house all
the hard paper copies. If you plotted government growth over the
last 50 years on a graph, it would draw an upward-curving line that
is now vertical.

And it’s not
just the federal government. Out-of-control government growth is
happening everywhere — it’s happening in all 50 states, in every
county, every city. And it’s not just the U.S. either — it’s a global
phenomena.

So clearly:
if you are an advocate for Big Government, you won. Hands down,
with flying colors. Those of us who tried to resist it never had
a chance. You left us in your dust.

But here’s
the real mind-boggler: the bigger government gets, the more people
scream for bigger government. It’s like some kind of addictive narcotic.
This leads me to ask all you big-government advocates a basic question:
where are you going with this? Will government ever reach a size
where you will say: "OK, government is big enough now, we’ve
won all our battles, we can sit back and enjoy the fruits of our
efforts." Based on historical trends, I would have to say the
answer to that question is: No, I don’t think that day will ever
come.

And the reason
that the big-government advocates will never cease their efforts
is: despite their belief that big government was supposed to solve
all problems, it simply has not happened. Problems still occur.
The perfect world that should have been attained by now has, in
fact, not happened.

Which brings
us to the next item of evidence to prove that big government doesn’t
work: history. Throughout human history, there is a clear, irrefutable
relationship between limited government and prosperity. The ash
heap of history is littered with tyrants and dictators that tried
to mandate happiness and prosperity via big government and failed
again: the USSR, Cuba, Cambodia under Pol Pot, Afghanistan under
the Taliban, or pick your favorite Middle Eastern monarchy, or African
or Central American banana republic du jour.

For the closest
thing to a “controlled test," consider East and West Germany,
or North and South Korea. Here you have pairs of nations with the
same history, same culture, same language, and the same natural
resources, yet one was poor, one was relatively wealthy. Why? One
had big government, one had small government. Go figure.

The next evidence
is based on an industry-by-industry comparison. Consider these industries:
Transportation. Energy. Health care. Education. Insurance &
financial services. These are some of THE most highly regulated
industries in our society. And all of them are plagued with horrendous
performance and sky-high prices. When the banking and mortgaged
industries melted down in 2008, the knee-jerkers all said, "Well,
the free market failed again! Time to let the Government run things."
These people never stopped to realize that those industries are
hardly a bastion of free enterprise.

At the other
extreme, consider these industries: Clothing & apparel. Shoes.
Electronics. Prescription eyewear. Entertainment. Beverages. All
these industries have ever-falling prices and ever-growing innovation
and quality products — and relatively little government meddling.
The contact lenses I wear in my eyes are awesome, and cost so little
I throw them away after 3 weeks. If free enterprise works for eyewear,
why would it not work for banking?

The next piece
of evidence comes from the Bible. If you asked God what his opinion
was of government, what would he say? This passage is a paraphrase
from the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, chapter 8:

“Give
us a government!” the people demanded.

“You
don’t want a government” God replied.

“Yes
we do!” the people said.

“Look,
if I give you a government, here’s what will happen: It will turn
your sons into cannon fodder, force your daughters to work in
sweatshops, steal your land, your homes, your animals, and your
paycheck, take away your kids, and generally make your lives miserable
until you scream in agony.”

The
people replied, “And your point is?”

God
sighed. “Very well then, here’s your government. But don’t say
I didn’t warn you!”

Clearly, the
Big Man Himself even thought government was a bummer.

Government
defined

So about now,
the obvious question should be: What exactly IS government? The
answer comes from German sociologist Max Weber: Government is
that entity which has a monopoly on force within a prescribed geographic
area. The key word here is FORCE. Government and only government
can legally use physical force to achieve its goals. Government
agents can punish you, with whatever level of violence they think
is necessary, to whip the citizenry into line.

A government
agent can approach you with a deadly weapon and demand your money.
You and I cannot legally do that. But the agent can whip out a card
that says he's a government employee, and for reasons that befuddle
me, it's suddenly OK.

A government
agent can tell a business owner: "Mr. Businessman, we don't
like the way you run your business, we don't like the prices you
charge, we don't like what you pay your employees. Our people will
now come in and straighten things out." And if the business
owner protests, they can haul him away and lock him up.

The government,
by way of the Federal Reserve, can counterfeit our currency. They
say they’re “stimulating the economy," but if you or I attempt
to “stimulate the economy” like that, we would surely endure much
suffering.

The targets
of government violence do not even have to be inside our borders.
The U.S. government can say to any foreign government anywhere:
"We don’t like the way you govern your nation. Therefore, we
will attack you, invade you, embargo you, and bomb you until you
fall into line with our desires."

Government
is violence. And violence is never a tool of productivity, wealth,
prosperity, or problem-solving, and it should not matter if the
perpetrator has a card saying he's an employee of the government.

The only positive
role of force in a civilized society is to DEFEND your life and
property against others who employ violence or dishonesty. But when
government uses force to steal your property, run your life and
your private affairs, counterfeit the currency, and provoke war,
that is not defending anybody. Let’s call government what it really
is: a gang of thugs.

The standard
response to this charge is that government must do these things
because they are acting in the "national interest" or
the "common interest" or the "common good" or
whatever buzzword you prefer. So let me get this straight: the government
must steal my money to pay hordes of fat-cat government bureaucrats
their 6-digit salaries because … it's in my "interest"?
The government must spend tens of $billions of my dollars each month
to turn some hellhole over in the Middle East into the biggest special
interest project in history, because it's "good" for me?
I have no patience with people who feel they can run my life and
spend my money better than I can, and are all ready, willing, and
able to physically punish me if I disagree.

Another standard
answer is that government force is justified because “the people”
voted for it, thus government has a “mandate." Let’s examine
this myth. If one does the math, one realizes that the President
of the United States is usually elected by only about a fourth of
the adult population. (70 million voted for Obama, out of a population
of about 250 million over the age of 18, yielding about 28%.) What
kind of “mandate” is 28%? And this figures gets much lower when
state and local offices are considered, due to low voter turnout.

Furthermore,
the typical average voter is a clueless moron who values style and
image over substance. Ask any voter in that 28% group why
they voted as they did, and odds are you will not get an
intelligible answer. They will probably say that the candidate “made
them feel good," or that they simply picked a candidate at
random, or they will give the “sheep” answer: “everyone else was
voting for him, so I did too!” And this is how politicians acquire
the power to run our lives?

The Alternative
So if government didn't "run the country" and protect
the "public interest" and do all the things it attempts
to do, who would? The answer, in short: people. Workers, volunteers,
entrepreneurs, you and me. People, voluntarily cooperating with
one another, acting in their own best interest, can solve problems
and produce the goods and services we all need and want. It's called
free enterprise — a system where people are allowed to buy, sell,
work, and trade without interference, so long as their actions are
peaceful and honest. The free market always can solve problems
and produce what people need better than government. There are no
exceptions.

Consider:
an airplane crash, an event that most people instinctively think
only government can prevent. So which of these two people is in
a better position to prevent an airplane crash? The CEO of the airline,
who's very livelihood depends on convincing the public that his
product is safe, or some bureaucrat in Washington, who's livelihood
depends on the continuation of airplane crashes?

Consider:
government "entitlement" programs, where the vast bulk
of the collected revenues go to bureaucratic overhead. In contrast,
non-profit organizations must demonstrate positive results,
else their contributions will disappear.

Profit or
non-profit, all private institutions in the free market must convince
you to donate, or to buy their product, because it will make your
life, or some else’s life, better. They must persuade you
to come to work for them by offering a better job than the next
guy. Government, on the other hand, says: follow our orders or we
will punish you. The free market offers a positive incentive. Government
offers a negative incentive.

Is the free
market perfect? Of course not, because the free market is run by
people, and people are imperfect. But wait a minute — who
runs the government? People do, not gods!

But what about
all those businesses and non-profits that run fraudulent operations
and steal people's money, or who hire goons and thugs to apply coercion?
Let me point out that that is NOT free enterprise. As already stated,
people should be left alone as long as their actions are peaceful
and voluntary. It is true that, in any society, you will have some
people who use violence and dishonesty to try to get ahead. But
this type of behavior has never been acceptable and has always been
outlawed. But let's be consistent here — no exceptions if the violent
perpetrator happens to bear a card saying he's a government employee.

Conclusion

So where is
this argument going? Should we totally abolish all government? Not
necessarily. Government can have a role, but it's a very small role:
to institute a system of justice to protect us from force and fraud.
As stated earlier, force is justified only for defending life and
property. There are those who feel that government should perform
that task; a compromise here is not unreasonable. But everything
else government does, or attempts to do, must go.

So quit supporting
politicians who use every crisis, every emergency, every problem,
every piece of bad news as yet another excuse to make government
bigger, more powerful, and more expensive. Instead, look for a politician
who promises something like this:

"Because
of the current crisis situation, I propose that we totally abolish
each of the 100 government agencies listed on this report, and
that we reduce government spending by 90%. Yes, I know it's very
drastic, and it will be very painful; but, it's an emergency.
And it's a proven fact that big government does not work."

August
19, 2009

David
Woods [send him mail]
is an I.T. Business Systems Analyst living in Houston.

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