|Response to Albert Stichka|
|Written by Ash Smith|
|Tuesday, 20 July 2010 20:49|
After reading Albert Stichka’s opposing view of government in our joint article in the July issue of The Fayetteville FEED, I decided that a response was in order to some of his key points and assumptions that I believe attempt to distort and marginalize the views of small-government advocates and the libertarian position.
I have a lot of respect for Albert, both as a professional and intellectual, and think that his positions on government stem from an honest belief that the role of government in modern society to is to help people, particularly the less fortunate. However, it was Supreme Court Justice William Brandeis who said that “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government's purposes are beneficent…The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.” I believe that truer words have probably never been spoken. Large government advocates like Albert, who are well-intentioned but naïve to the nature of economic law and to the secondary and tertiary consequences of their actions, are most likely to harm the economic and civil liberties of everyone in the name of helping a select few. They don’t understand that their policies often harm those they wish to help.
But let us examine Albert’s defense of big government point for point to see the flaws and lack of support for his arguments.
He starts by stating that “government is not by definition corrupt, inefficient, and inept…” as some of its critics have claimed. I would agree with Albert that, by definition, government is not those things. The nature of government, in its basic form, is determined by the people who make up the government, and by the people who select or appoint those in government. However, I would argue that in practice and given any lengthy amount of time, that government always devolves into corrupt, inefficient, and inept institutions.
There is not a government in history that has broken that cycle. Some large government advocates (particularly supporters of Democratic Socialism) will point to modern democracies that have seemingly provided models for large, effective governments. They usually name places like Denmark or Sweden. (In Albert’s article he says “there are governments in the developed world that I feel function better to secure the well-being of their constituents…”.)
However, people who idolize places like Denmark often don’t have any real understanding of the growing problems faced by that country and other social democracies. They are faced with mounting debt problems from long-term liabilities for social programs and entitlements, slow economic growth, and massively high taxes. For example, 22% of Danes 16-66 live primarily off of welfare payments by the government. That heavy burden has required Denmark to cut back on medical services to children and the elderly, and has required cuts of healthcare for other than serious problems. They are falling prey to one of the oldest lessons of economics: Over time, government always impedes economic growth because government cannot create wealth. It can only redistribute it.
Albert’s second set of points are based more in genetic fallacy than they are in any sort of logic. Instead of providing support for his positions against small-government advocates, he attacks the libertarians and small-government folks as being “jaded” individuals who are too privileged to see the correct position in his mind, that we “need” government. He writes:
Essentially what my problem is with arguments about small government in every case, no matter the case, is that those arguments seem to be coming from jaded individuals who want to boot the government out of their lives as a concept in general. I hate to break it to you, but people with children in schools, people with medical or financial problems, people who are made victims by other people – they all need the government. It seems like it is always the people who have their needs met who make the case that the government should shrink away.
First, he holds that small-government advocates are “jaded” simply because they hold a position that is opposite to his. I’m pretty sure that this is a misuse of the word, because I’m fairly certain that activists and advocates can hardly be described as jaded. Jaded implies that the person is disillusioned or that they are have uninvolved because of growing apathy, while liberty advocates are very active participants in the political process and are engaged in revolutionary (albeit peaceful) change. That’s not jaded.
His second point in that section is that people currently receiving things like public education, or who have medical or financial issues, NEED the government. To me that seems like a very sad statement, that people need to be governed. It’s kind of a “glass-half-empty” look at humanity. But beyond being a negative view of individual human potential, it also makes some fallacious assumptions. It assumes that government is the ONLY entity that can provide important features of society like schools, or that can ensure quality affordable healthcare, or that can bail people and businesses out when they get themselves into financial messes.
But on what is that assumption based? Private schools, parochial, religious and home schools exist outside of the failing public school system. Therefore, government is not needed to provide schools. Big government advocates would says that most people cannot afford private or religious schools, and therefore the poor would go uneducated without the government. However, that argument is an appeal to the sympathy of the listener and ignores basic economics.
Private schools operate on the same basic principles as a business operates. If a school wants to grow, it must add more customers (students) and improve the quality of its services (namely, it must provide a quality education). If a private school isn’t competitive because its prices are too high or it doesn’t offer quality education, then the school goes out of business. What big-government advocates like Albert do not understand is that the high prices of private schools are caused precisely because they must compete with public schools that do not have to meet the criteria of providing a quality education, are funded with a constant stream of taxpayer money regardless of performance, and who have a virtual monopoly over the education industry through compulsory education laws and education regulations set at the local, state, and federal levels. And unlike private schools, when the performance of a government school falls below commonly set standards, they usually get more money the following year. Following basic laws of economics, if education was privatized overnight it would create a truly competitive environment as new schools formed to fill the gaps left by government schools, driving the price of private education down to truly affordable levels for almost all Americans. For those who still couldn’t afford the price of private education, it is very likely that nonprofit organizations would for to help provide subsidies or vouchers for poor students to attend school. We already have such organizations today, but it would be different in this scenario because private education is more efficient and has proven more effective, so the costs to such nonprofits would be lower.
Albert also mentioned safety nets for people who have excessive medical bills or who need medical care. He’s also probably unaware of the historical blunders of intervention by the government in the healthcare industry which has led to the skyrocketing costs of care and insurance. The problem is that he sees a problem (aka rising healthcare costs) and automatically blames the market while assuming that it is government’s responsibility to fix it. With a little bit of research he might discover that government intervention in the healthcare market in the 1930s is what set up our current system of insurance, when the government passed legislation that helped give Blue-Cross Blue-Shield a virtual monopoly over the emerging healthcare market. That ultimately led to increased costs of care across the board as BCBS created a payment system called cost-plus, which gave doctors and hospitals incentives to raise prices because they knew they’d be paid what they asked for. Medicare adopted that system, and it has led to massive increases to healthcare costs ever since. Government, trying to fix their own mess in the 1970s, tried again to intervene in the market and created HMOs. We all know how that turned out.
The point is that government is responsible, in large part, for high prices in both the private education industry, and in the healthcare industry. Albert’s assumption that more government in those areas is a good thing ignores the complete ineptness and inefficiencies of government involvement in those industries. Some students succeed not because of, but in spite of, public schools. And some patients receive good care care not because of, but in spite of, government involvement in healthcare.
By far the most telling aspect of Albert’s view of government is his analysis of libertarianism. He attempts to paint libertarians as anarchists who want companies and corporations to run everyone’s lives instead of the government. His strategy is to convince readers that if government was not around to protect them, that money-hungry companies would simply go around killing people. He writes:
If someone controls a company and that company can make slightly more money by not helping, potentially harming or killing some number of people then that company will hurt, put at risk or kill those people. It happens all the time…The free market will fail to keep people safe again and again and again until it is made less free – until it is policed by someone not motivated by profit.
Conveniently, he assumes that point and provides no analysis to support it. I’m glad that the government can take time out of its busy day to protect me from the companies who finance and get favors from greedy politicians. I can sleep a lot better at night because of the stellar job our government is doing in that area. I’m also glad that we have the government to protect us from the evil profiteering people over at Coca-cola who would kill us if they could make some profit.
What really bothers me about his analysis of blood-thirsty corporations is that he assumes without merit that Libertarians are automatically supportive of such corporations and that the libertarian free-market is what has allowed bad corporations to cause harm to consumers in the past. In this case, he automatically assumes that he has the superior position and thus doesn’t even know the real libertarian position on corporate malpractice. He thinks because he had some rousing debate with a libertarian in a coffee shop or something one time, that he is an expert on libertarian thought. His analysis is horrendously flawed.
First, he makes the assumption that libertarians simply want the government removed and replaced by corporations. What is lacking here is Albert’s understanding of what a corporation is. Corporations, register with government to receive special charters establishing them as independent legal entities from their owners. The libertarian economic position does not support such charters, and therefore takes issues with the government-granted legal status and immunity given to large corporations to protect them from lawsuits resulting from defective products or misconduct.
Libertarians support honest transactions between individuals and private businesses for mutual benefit. That means we do not support special favors for businesses or for individuals that gives that business a protected legal status or sets a limit on liability. If a business makes a product that harms or kills a person, damages property through pollution, or uses deception to deprive people of money, then libertarians believe that the person or company should be responsible for 100% of the liability of the harm caused by their product or actions. Libertarians believe that an individual's liberty of choice and action end when it violates another's liberty of choice and action. That means that our calls for a freer society doesn't mean that a company can just go out and kill people for profit, or that one person can use their liberty to shoot another in the head without reprecussion. A common law judicial system would exist in a libertarian society, and would be more efficient and less harmful to innocent people than the present system.
That is radically different from the present system, where companies are protected (through government laws and regulations) from prosecution or liability for harm done to consumers and the environment. In fact, the lack of liability for accidents is likely the cause of many accidents. Case in point is the BP oil leak. First government regulation drove them to drill deeper then they wanted. Then, because of government laws governing liability of oil spills, they are only being held liable for a portion of the cleanup. If they hadn’t generously (through coercion by the administration) offered up the $20 Billion for the cleanup, they would only be responsible for around $900 million by law. Under a libertarian system, they would be responsible for 100% of the cleanup, either through the purchase of insurance before drilling, or out of their own profits.
Libertarians are opposed to the type of government corporatism or crony capitalism that we see today. Government growth always leads to those type of business/government dealings or complete monopolization of industry by the government. Both scenarios mean terrible things for the American people.
There is one big difference between my position and Mr. Stichka’s that is often overlooked. I call it the opt-out principle. Under Albert’s desired system of government, you don’t have the ability to opt out. As government grows, and the amount you owe the government either through taxes or public debt grows, the less ability you have to escape that growth and live freely in the way that you want to live. For example, when the country was first formed under our Constitution, we were a band of states that were relatively autonomous. If you didn’t like what New York was doing, you could move to North Carolina. If you didn’t like what North Carolina was doing, you could move to California, and so on. As government grew, and especially following the Civil War, the government began to centralize and grew exponentially through the Wilson, FDR, Johnson, the Bushes, and now Obama administrations. Now, so much of our lives fall under federal control or regulation, that you can’t escape from one state to another.
Countries like Denmark have even started making it harder to emigrate out of that nation until the person wanting to leave has repaid many of the benefits they’ve been given. They are doing that because over the past few years the Danes have had a rapidly slowing net migration rate (meaning that the number of people moving into that country is starting to go down and the number leaving is starting to go up). That means that their huge welfare state is unsustainable unless they can force people to stay in the country. Some Danish economists for the government have even started suggesting that young people who want to leave the country after college should be forced to either pay back the cost of their education or work in Denmark until they’ve paid taxes long enough to pay back the cost of their education, creating a virtual barrier to emigration. Denmark has also has some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe to keep foreigners from moving into the country. In order for the U.S. to adopt a similar welfare system as Denmark, we'd have to virtually close our borders (meaning an even further crackdown on so-called "illegal" immigration). Other left-leaning bastions of hope, like Switzerland and the Netherlands have seen their economies start to crumble in recent years as well under the pressure of mounting debt.
The difference between our positions is that with libertarianism you can opt to live as free or restricted as you want. If you want to create a town with 90% taxes and 100% regulation of your local economy with the town paying for the residents’ education, healthcare, etc. you can go for it. You all can get together, draw up a contract, and be on your merry way. But if someone doesn’t want to be part of such a system, they shouldn’t be forced to be. Under libertarianism, there’s nothing stopping you from having your own hippie commune with your own elected leaders. But if I want to purchase land, have a farm, build a house, sell my farm products and buy products from businesses or individuals who I trust, then I should be free to do so without the government regulating it and wanting money in return for protection that I didn’t ask for. In that respect, the government is no different than a bureaucratic version of the mob.
And last, there is one key reason why Albert and other fans of big government get it wrong: They would rather give up freedom for a false sense of security…and they’d like to force you to do the same whether you like it or not.
As Benjamin Franklin noted: “They who can give up essential liberty for obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
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Aberdeen isn't in Cumberland County, but recent news out of the small city should be troubling to Libertarians. The Aberdeen City council voted yesterday to not allow land purchased by Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit group that builds affordable housing for low-income families, to be rezoned from R-2 to R-15 residential housing. This means that the land, which was purchased by the non-profit from the NC Dept. of Transportation, cannot be developed for the type of housing that Habitat builds.
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Dependence leads to subservience. -- Thomas Jefferson