Monday, November 24, 2008

The Miracle of Government Regulation

Tibor R. Machan

Maybe I need some help here. I just cannot get used to how so many people are so confident that government regulators are better people than the rest of us. Not just better but smarter, too. Indeed, whatever virtue we ought to cultivate in our lives, a great many folks appear to believe government regulators have them while the rest of us don't.

Over and over I run across comments from prominent people to the effect, Left, Right and evereywhere, that if only government were to regulate some activity, it would bring far better results than otherwise. I recall listening to former NBC-TV anchor Tom Brokaw once, many moons ago, reporting about some politician who got caught stealing or doing something else criminal and then turning to a story about dolphins somewhere in Florida that were being shown the tourists even though the establishment wasn't regulated by the government. How awful! Then just today I read in The New York Times how some entrepreneurs are offering loan modification as a service for a fee to people who are worried about not being able to continue to pay high mortgages. These persons were referred to as predators, without a scintilla of evidence of any wrong-doing by them. Their crime: They wanted to earn a living off providing this service. Like those greedy umbrella makers who want to make a living off shielding people from the rain!

Of course, perhaps I don't need help at all. Perhaps it is plain that millions of people entrust their lives, property, future, and so forth to government officials--after all they have had these kind of officials running their lives for centuries on end. A king here, a tsar there, a pharaoh at another place, then some tribal chief somewhere else, with all their minions! Throughout human history millions have been ruled, ordered about, used without their consent, and this policy is still being promoted by many political theorists and, of course, editors of elite publications such as The New York Times or The New York Review of Books.

But it is amazing how confidently the idea is advanced that what we all need so as to fix problems that face us is some elite bunch to take over the running of our lives--the bulk of our commercial, scientific, cultural, education, and similar endeavors. Yes, that's the ticket--get some bureaucrat to be in charge, with presumably magic powers, and the credit crisis, the AIDs epidemic, mis-education, inattention, laziness, imprudence, and the like will all be set aright.

What is amazing is that this all means nothing other than the idea that some people using coercive force upon others will fix things. Yes, the solution to our problems in so many areas is nothing else but brute force and its threat. For that is what government does when it regulates everyone, regiments us, takes over the running of our lives. After all, the proper task of government is the reaction to force that is initiated against the citizenry. Protective force, that's what governments are supposed to be good at. That's why when cops make excessive use of force, they are deemed to be engaged in malpractice.

But why are so many confident that if only coercion is deployed in aggressive, entirely non-defensive ways, matters will be improved for sure? Ordinarily we all realize that while using force in self-defense is OK, using it to solve problems that do not involve someone raising and hand and such is verboten. The criminal law acknowledges this in most places. So why then when it comes to public policies do so many people accept it without much protest that officials may deploy force and its threat?

Maybe it is because for thousands of years that was the norm and civilized behavior has only recently made a bit of headway in human community life. That may be the shred of optimism in all this, namely, that humanity is just at the start of expunging brutality, banning violence, when it comes to reaching solutions. One can only hope the long range trend will continue and in time this misplaced trust in government will disappear.

No comments: