A reader of mine recently wrote:
I noticed in general the government solution to a problem is not to create but to cut something. In Florida, the solution of water supply is not to find ways to have more water but to limit the amount of water used. You reminded me of this when you wrote “Organizations like the Colorado Wildlife Federation say we have to cut back on oil production in order to have water. Why can’t we have both?”
I don’t think economic progress has any place, by definition, in government.
That’s an insightful point. Have you noticed how government never proposes ways to expand, innovate or create? Government only proposes ways to restrict, inhibit, limit and ration.
In a way, this makes sense. Government, by definition, is an instrument of force. All government can do, by its very nature, is force or restrain.
A just government restrains genuine criminals: People who initiate force (including fraud) against others. Without a government to do this, we’d all be the victims of mindless criminals.
Of course, our government does way, way more than punish actual criminals. It takes it upon itself to provide health and retirement insurance to everybody; flood or disaster insurance to everybody; wheelchair ramps, food stamps, and regulations designed not to punish criminals so much as to get businesses to act a certain way. Government provides subsidized radio and television, subsidized crops, subsidized bailouts to rescue companies so long as they obey the government bureaucrats; ‘targeted’ tax credits and regulation waivers to reward politically connected companies and punish their competitors, and on and on and on.
Should government be doing any of these things? According to me—absolutely not. And according to the original American Constitution—absolutely not. But that is of little relevance today, because government now does all these things and aims to do much, much more. Yes, government has long since run out of other people’s money. But it’s going to keep raising the debt ‘limit’ until we find out at what point the economy can no longer sustain a debt of that magnitude. $17 trillion debt? No worries. Raise the debt to $20 trillion. Then $30 trillion. Then $50 trillion. It’s not going to stop until we learn what the consequences of such government-by-debt lead to, in practice. Watch and learn, because the politicians in charge—paid hacks whose job is to stay ‘yes’ to constituents, and nothing else—will never learn.
We can argue about what government should be doing. A socialist will claim that government must do way, way more than an advocate of limited government and laissez-faire capitalism, such as myself, will claim. These are ideological differences, based on one’s basic philosophy about government and, more fundamentally, the nature of ethics and man.
But on one point, there can be no disagreement: Government, by its nature, can only force.
When a socialist government forces citizens to pay into a Medicare program, it’s not creating anything. It’s taking money—forcibly—from people in order to pay for that program. The act of force does not ‘create’ medical services that otherwise would not have existed. If people wanted those medical services, you had better believe they would exist on a free market. In fact, without the previously existing free market, there would have been no ‘inspiration’ to create a Medicare program in the first place. Government only subsidizes, imitates, socializes or nationalizes things that already exist, i.e. goods and services that people already find valuable. No government was ever needed to create a basis for exchange of these goods and services; and without some wealth from a private sector in the first place, there would have been nothing to socialize or nationalize. (Our present government has already spent most of our present and future wealth, which is why we have the massive and growing debt.)
The magical thinking at work here is the pretense that government creates anything at all. Government creates absolutely nothing. When it comes to the economy, government may seize, transfer, redistribute, ‘invest’ or otherwise ‘spread’ human productive energy (in the form of money or goods) around in whatever way it chooses; but it’s all about forcing the redistribution of already existing goods and property, not about creating it.
That’s why government laws never amount to the creation of anything. Some have pointed out that the government invented the technology for the Internet. Whether that’s true or not, of what value would the Internet ever have been without a marketplace of free enterprise? Amazon.com and Ebay did not develop out of a government ‘stimulus’ program. Government may impair, hamper, restrict or otherwise impede the growth of those companies, once they exist; but government never could have created them, even if you accept the dubious claim that the Internet as we now know it is the result of the collective brainpower of voting blocs and political hacks.
Do we need a government? Absolutely: To impede and punish the actions of actual criminals. Instead, our government has created a class of legalized criminals whose job it is to restrict and impair the flow of freedom. It’s not a pretty sight.
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