Leave it to “Them”

Q: Why is it that people believe that the government can never be wrong, but business will always be guilty?

A: Most people don’t have a philosophy of government as either “good” or “bad.” In most people’s minds, government simply refers to “them.” When you hear phrases like, “They’re going to clean up those roads,” or “They’re going to get that bridge built,” or “They can put a man on the moon…” it’s the rough equivalent of government that people have in mind when they say “they.” Whether government in fact does all of these things isn’t the point, psychologically speaking. The point is someone else will take care of it. That’s why government is the source of first, last and only resort during a crisis. When people, acting privately and independently, do stupid things, it’s “they” who will take care of it all. If government intervenes inappropriately and creates stupid incentives, and too many people buy houses they cannot afford, and the bubble finally bursts–well, “they” will take care of it. This is why in poll after poll more than a majority of Americans–even in the liberal sweep of the last two elections–say that generally they don’t trust the government to do things right, but they still–in each individual case, such as health care, mortgage relief, education–opt for government “solutions” rather than privatization.

Business is always perceived as “guilty” because business reminds people of things they would rather not confront: cause and effect, personal responsibility, risks and tradeoffs in life, and the requirement of each individual to make his or her own way in life. All of these things are associated with business, and the way some people handle anxiety about these things is through the emotional reaction of hostility. Hostility towards business is at an all-time high in this country because the economy is bad and people are understandably anxious. Just as Nazis blamed everything on the Jews and the bankers, the typical American today blames all the evils of the world on capitalism, business and profit. Most find it more comforting to shout at reality–represented by “ugly, greedy business”–and to place all their trust and hope in the soothing illusion of “them” in government. What they will increasingly discover in coming years is that behind the great curtain of comforting government is…well, nothing–except bureaucracy, mediocrity, red ink and probably massive inflation.

This notion of “they” is something like a spoiled adolescent or young adult counting on a parent to keep bailing him out of every crisis or difficulty that arises, regardless of his personal responsibility in the matter, and regardless of limited funds on the part of the parent. There’s a sense of entitlement across the land, and it comes from the notion that while money might not grow on trees, it certainly grows in Washington DC, and “they” will somehow take care of it. This mentality is completely at odds with the notion of self-government, individual rights and individual responsibility which gave rise to the original American government in the first place, and which propelled America to its former greatness.