Abuse a Feature, Not Failure of Bigger Government

I think the most significant thing to come out of the trio (so far) of Obama administration scandals last week was how they pointed out the cognitive and practical failures of “progressive” beliefs about big government. They’re scrambling to define the abuses and failures of government agencies and individuals as aberrations of a government that oversees, well, everything when in fact these types of failures are inevitable features of central planning and the belief that a governing elite of well-intentioned experts can guide us lesser souls to happiness and fulfillment by rationally and scientifically allocating resources and regulating behavior.

This is nonsense.

If you have ten minutes right now before going any further, read I Pencil by Leonard Read. That along with the brief intro by current FEE president Larry Reed and an afterward by Milton Friedman say everything I want to say, only better than I can say it. And well before I ever thought of it.

If you don’t have ten minutes right now then bookmark the I Pencil link and read it later. Here, in a nutshell, is what it says:

1. What kind of arrogant idiot (I’m going with idiot even though I’m thinking something else) thinks they can possibly know the wants and needs or “what’s best” for an entire society full of people with as many tastes, value systems, priorities, hopes, dreams, fears, talents, challenges and even luck as there are social security numbers?

2. Assuming they know what’s best for everybody, what kind of arrogant idiot thinks they can measure, produce and allocate every resource, from the raw materials to delivery of the finished product, to every person to allow them to fulfill their dreams and desires?

3. Assuming they know what makes everybody happy and that they can provide everything to make everybody happy, what kind of arrogant idiot thinks, where humans are involved, that the massive power to pick winners and losers, to allocate success and failure, will not be abused by the people doing the allocating and deciding? The insiders will prosper and everyone else will toil under their yoke.

In Federalist 51, James Madison said:

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If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.


We don’t live in a world of angels, we’ve just become so lazy that we’d rather assume we do than take on the responsibilities of self-governing.

The biggest lesson of the last week isn’t that there are arrogant idiots in government, even if they’re a minority. It’s that no matter how well meaning, no matter how divinely inspired or technically adept and scientifically sound, governance-by-expert is a fallacy. There is no magic mathematical formula or giant computer model that can divine a balance between what the actual people of a nation want and what that nation has. The only system that’s done that is free enterprise: free people making free decisions in a reasonably regulated free market. Everything else has been tried and failed miserably – literally leading to misery.

President Obama, in a moment when he actually said what he meant and not what he though you wanted to hear, famously said that government is the only thing we all belong to. No, government should belong to all of us. We need to take it back, and the first step is to get it down to a manageable size.