Monday, November 8, 2010


As discussed previously, most of today’s so-called liberals are really statists. Maybe we should discuss statism, the idea of strong government control. What are its advantages and disadvantages?

The statists point out that true liberalism allows inequalities. Those who have more ability and work harder will have more, as will their descendants (until they become wasteful or lazy and lose it). In fact some will have more simply due to luck. They also point out that in a liberal society the poor often lack good medical care and similar benefits. While those accusations are true, we must be careful about the proposed solution. It is easy to find problems and nearly as easy to propose solutions. The difficulty comes in making those proposed solutions effective without causing more serious problems.

Indeed one of history's most colossal failures was the result of well-intentioned solutions to the problems mentioned above. Communism, the ultimate form of statism, was supposed to fix inequality, poverty, lack of medical care and the other problems allowed in a liberal society. The results were the exact opposite of the intentions. Poverty was rampant, the government class was "more equal than others," medical care was abysmal for most of the people. Why? Why was statism such a failure?

The problems with statism start with the assumptions one must accept in order to believe in it. Implicit in statism is a belief that government is somehow wiser and more moral than the average citizen. Unless it possesses that wisdom and integrity there is no reason to trust government instead of average citizens.

Communism demonstrated that, contrary to statist assumptions, government has no special wisdom, nor is it less subject to temptation to abuse of power than is the average person. Good intentions may be comforting but they make a poor supper.

The communist state attempted to be all things to all people. It gave quotas to farms and factories, telling them what to produce and how much of it. It even assigned people jobs.

The result was one of the most spectacular failures in human history. The five year plans failed. The factories and farms did not their quotas and what they did produce was often shoddy. The people were held captive in an unworkable system. Communism produced shortages of nearly everything except misery.

We must now ask, where would government get the wisdom and integrity statists think it has? It must come from one of two sources:

1. Divine wisdom. Monarchists claimed that the king was God's anointed. If one accepts that, he could also accept that the king has some special, God-given wisdom. However most statists in the U.S. today seem to deny that God should have any voice in government. With few exceptions, U.S. citizens will reject the divine right of kings, and with it any divine wisdom or integrity for government officials.

2. The second possible source of special governmental wisdom is the wisdom of the majority. If we believe that the majority is always right or at least right more often than the average person, then we can believe that leaders elected by the majority are wiser than that average person. However, the beliefs of the majority will inevitably be the beliefs of the average person. Majority rule is, after all, essentially an averaging process.

Integrity is even worse. Majority integrity suffers from a mob effect. People will do as a group things they would not think of doing as individuals. People who agree theft is wrong may think it is somehow just fine to vote themselves benefits at the expense of others.

One of the more pernicious aspects of statism is its tendency to turn social theory and personal preference into law. Be it the old official state church or modern political correctness, this tendency leads to silliness at best and institutionalized idiocy at worst. For example, the mayor of Portland, Oregon once proposed outlawing "snout houses," houses on which the garage projects out in front. What business did she have forcing her architectural preferences on everybody else? If people want to avoid those houses they can buy a different style. They can even live in neighborhoods where voluntary covenants prohibit them. However it is a serious infringement on liberal freedom for government to decide what kind of house everybody should live in.

Clearly there are problems with classic liberalism and freedom. However those problems are not nearly as serious as those we cause when we allow a statist government to rule our lives, whether we call that government "progressive," "positive," "modern" or anything else. Freedom leads to more production and more goods for everyone. Statism leads to less for everyone except the ruling class.

The goal should not be elimination of inequality but enhancing life for everyone, even if the rich still have more than the poor

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