Thursday, April 08, 2010

That which they don't know

"The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design." -- Friedrich von Hayek

Watching the Obama Administration and the Democratic Congress re-organize vast swathes of the U.S. economy in ways which inevitably expand their own power, I am constantly reminded of the arrogance of left-wing thought. Deeply implicit in its philosophy is the notion that the empowerment of a learned elite will produce superior outcomes to the empowerment of the masses. After all, if concentrated political power will not make society better off, what is the point?

It logically follows that the desire for expanded government power is rooted in a belief that the citizenry, if left to their own devices, engage in actions which are either greedy, selfish or flatly stupid. Money must be confiscated from the populace to fund social programs -- in reality, social engineering schemes, the wisdom of which is beyond reproach -- because their own volition might lead them to spend too much on their own desires instead of acts of charity. Reams of regulations must be enacted to prevent "speculators" and other capitalist species (automatically cast with a suspicious eye, for having forsworn public sector employment or non-profit pursuits, must be driven by dark intentions and motives) who, while fiendishly clever, are also constantly on the verge of bankrupting themselves and wrecking the broader economy.

All citizens are subject to any number of nanny-state interventions which -- while promoted as encouraging a healthier lifestyle -- are better understood as attempts to protect the people from themselves. Bans on various substances (crack, trans-fats) and government exhortations to consume a healthier diet are meant to save us both from gluttony and substance abuse. For our intellectual well-being, public funds are dispensed to broadcasters such as PBS and NPR so that citizens do not gorge on a diet of drivel served on the nation's airways.

This would simply be a philosophical debate if big government were able to produce a society either equal or demonstrably superior to its libertarian counterpart. Experience, however, shows this isn't true. The expansion of power to government and the select few who run it has produced an almost unending litany of failures and fiascoes. The scale of these failures corresponds almost precisely with the ambitions behind the initiative. Efforts to save the populace from penury and a lack of medical care in old age through the enactment of Social Security and Medicare have placed the very fiscal future of the country in jeopardy. Public housing frequently serve as loci of social disorder while public education churns out fresh generations given a sub-standard education. Despite this sorry record, advocates for statism continue to plead for new powers to eliminate various scourges, reassuring us that this time will be different.

All of this is in striking contrast to the philosophy of the libertarian, whose humble approach is based on a keen awareness and appreciation of his own limitations. Rather than grand schemes, libertarians offer the citizens only expanded liberty. The libertarian does not pretend to know how best to allocate large shares of the country's wealth, how businesses should be best run or which choices by individuals will produce the healthiest and most fulfilling life possible. While leaving so much power and wealth in the hands of the people is inevitably criticized by statist as an expression of naked greed, the libertarian knows that this expansion of liberty among the people, will produce a harvest more bountiful than any program or initiative devised by government.


Anonymous said...

I just now came across your blog. I'm always interested in a variety of perspectives, and - given the von Hayek quote at the beginning, I was hopeful.

However, I got stopped short at the very first sentence. The current administration, whatever I may think of it, does not seem to be re-organizing 'vast swathes of the U.S. economy...' Can you tell me what, exactly, you mean by that comment? Are you referring to health care? Anything else? How would you define 'vast'?

I skimmed forward after that first roadblock, but was unable to seriously consider your further comments with that (mis-statement?) ringing in my ears.

I'm hoping you can elaborate


Colin said...

Well, let's see. The Obama Administration has already pushed through a vast reorganization of health care, which accounts for 15-20 percent of the economy. Chris Dodd is attempting to reorganize the financial sector and expand regulation there. The energy sector is witnessing expanded government intervention through a benighted desire to expand "green jobs" and the promotion of solar and wind energy. The auto sector has seen two companies rescued which should have gone into chapter 11 bankruptcy and is spending billions in taxpayer dollars on electrical vehicles. ( Transportation is seeing further interventions through taxpayer expenditures on high-speed rail (despite the fact that Amtrak remains a money-loser).

So -- health care, finance, autos, energy. I think that qualifies as vast swathes.

All this after less than 18 months in office!

Anonymous said...

And so you believe the motive factor here is a desire on the part of government (or just this administration?) to expand it's own power base?

Colin said...

The motive is irrelevant, it is only the result which interests me. The result is unquestionably an expansion of government power.

Anonymous said...

The motive doesn't matter? Really?

OK, then, I declare myself officially regretful that I bothered to read your comments. The initial post had some glimmerings... but the overall conclusion: too much hyperbole, and too little lucidity.

Have fun.

Colin said...

Had some glimmerings? According to your first post you only bothered to skim what I wrote. Plainly a serious dialogue is not what you are interested in.