Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sleepwalking Toward Destruction


There was some controversy last month (perhaps not as exciting as our Debate at Lolita Bar tomorrow night, of course) over a new Washington, DC visitors center that heaps praise on federal government, complete with a big inscribed quote from nineteenth-century lawyer Rufus Choate that struck some religious conservatives as bordering on idolatry: “We have built no temple but the Capitol. We consult no common oracle but the Constitution.”

What was not mentioned amid the controversy is that Rufus Choate was also the first lawyer in American history to successfully defend a client against a murder charge by arguing that his client had been sleepwalking. That may be an even greater outrage.

There are certain parallels, of course, between death-by-sleepwalking and the slow, inexorable increase in the size of the government (and the corollary waning of the private sector, that is, the portion of life in which individuals control their own property and interact through voluntary market exchanges instead of at politicians’ commands).

The bigger government gets, the dumber it gets — and at this late stage in history, anyone who talks about government as an engine of reform instead of an institution that (for example) buys entire ships filled with golfballs in order to burn through department budgets, to “justify” getting just as much money next year, is not merely a liberal or a government-friendly necocon but a dupe (or outright, deliberate villain, though I trust those are relatively few outside government itself, since people outside government, friend and foe alike, still think of it in such idealized, philosophical ways).

We can likely count on government — but also deficits — to get bigger under Obama, as they both did under Bush, since it seems increasingly likely he’s going to use the same basic formula for short-term happiness that Bush attempted: more government spending plus some tax cuts.

Seeing how inefficient and stupid — and uncaring and unresponsive, I think it’s important to add — government is compared to most competitive, private-sector enterprises, I’m struck that a commenter on my Sunday blog entry, who said that the most efficient mechanism for policing will inevitably be a big “monopoly on force” (i.e., a government or at least monarch), is likely wrong. Monopolies get lazy, and I see no more reason to assume (as Robert Nozick admittedly did as well) that policing would inevitably tend toward one efficient monopoly in a pure, anarcho-capitalist, governmentless market than to assume that moviemaking should be expected to tend toward the rise of one dominant studio.

Government is the ultimate lazy monopoly, and we can generally trust markets to exhibit diversity and choice — by comparison, at least. No one who loves diversity and freedom — and fears homogeneity and central authority — should countenance the continued existence of government or regard it as a natural outcome.

No comments: