Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Rise of the Sour Cream, Part 1

(Note: this and some subsequent blogs are excerpts from Chapter 22 of my book, Freedom or Serfdom, The Case for Limited, Constitutional Government and Against Statism.)

People took the favorable developments [created by freedom] for granted. They forgot the danger to freedom from a strong government. Instead they were attracted by the good that a stronger government could achieve – if only government power were in the “right” hands. (Milton & Rose Friedman)

That's all we need, leaders wise enough to manage all the complicated details involved in big government, and moral enough to work for the benefit of the people rather than for their own selfish interests. Do you know of such people? If so, please tell the rest of us where to find them and how to put them in positions of power and keep them there. Meanwhile, government officials will come from the people actually available in this imperfect world. Some are well-intentioned and wise. Some are well intentioned but foolish. Some are tyrants. Perfection eludes them all.

In fact our leaders come from a self-selected group: from people who seek positions of power and who have the ability to obtain that power. Some honestly seek the welfare of the country; some seek their own selfish ends. Do they have greater wisdom and integrity than the rest of us? History regards that question as a bad joke. Rulers, especially statist rulers, are seldom paragons of wisdom and integrity. This is most obvious among the dictators of the world, but even free countries are often plagued by the perverse.

Types of Statists
Statist rulers vary in cussedness. There are the “soft dictator” or “overprotective parent” types who genuinely want what is best for the people. They impose their own ideas on the country, from controlling what is in school lunches to forcing citizens to save for retirement and to buy health insurance, even telling them what that insurance must cover and that they must put retirement savings in a government run system. To “help and protect” the people, the soft dictator will set up a nanny state, including systems that provide oversight of the population – you cannot protect the people from themselves without some means of controlling them. That fosters dependence and prepares a people to acquiesce to whatever the authorities decree.

At the other extreme is the slave master such as the Kim family in North Korea or the Duvaliers in Haiti. They treat their people as property, forcing them to support extravagant life styles for the elite. And should a slave master take over a soft dictatorship, he will inherit the existing nanny state mechanisms and turn them into tools of tyranny.  Overprotected citizens, like overprotected children, are easily misled.

So what kind of people rise to the top in a collectivist country? Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Castro, Pol Pot, and others. Misery makers all, they ruled with iron fists and treated their people, not as citizens to be served, but as pawns to use as they saw fit. Why are so many collectivist rulers despots? Is that accidental, or do the tyrannical have some advantage in the quest for power? We shall see why the latter is true.

Sour Cream
“The cream rises until it sours.” The delightful book, The Peter Principle, uses that term to describe employees who get promoted into jobs they cannot do. There they stay, ineligible for further promotion. That is an interesting and useful concept, but not our concern here. We are concerned with the “cream” that is sour before it rises, the cream that rises because it is sour. Control freaks, tyrants, people who would force their ideas on others. Those people are the “sour cream,” who obtain power because they want to control the rest of us.

Honey attracts flies.

Money attracts the greedy.

Government attracts the power-hungry.

That is just the way things are. And the more powerful the government, the more it will attract those of tyrannical mindset.

There are two reasons despots rise to the top in statist systems. First, they want that power – badly. Second, they are willing to do what it takes to reach the top, ethics be damned. Their favorite tool is demagoguery, which we shall discuss shortly. However we should first correct a common misconception, an erroneous belief about the dangerously powerful.

(Continued next time)

No comments: