Why don’t they get it?
Tibor R. Machan
No matter how many politicians proceed to act self-destructively, engage in corruption, violate elementary principles of civilized conduct as New York governor Eliot Spitzer had done, the idea that they can be elected to office to take care of us, to handle the bulk of our problems, may be trusted with our income to spend it wisely and virtuously remains nearly immune to criticism. They keep promising to handle everything we find troubling in our lives and the majority of Americans--not to mention others around the globe--continue with their governmental habit, as if they still lived in an absolute monarchy where the king or queen are taken to be God’s agents and are expected to be “keepers of the realm.” That famous legal doctrine of the police power is still part of our system, according to which government may impose its will on us for our own good, just as if the myth of its benevolence had not be disproved a thousand times over and over again.
What is it about people who for all appearances are reasonably competent in their private and professional lives lose their good sense when it comes to trusting the system? Yes, the system was to be one limited to certain minimal functions instead of allowed to become bloated in its scope, at least as the American founders conceived of it. But it is evident that their idea of the nature of government has by now been totally perverted, corrupted. It is as if the game were now not just refereed by those people in the striped shirts but those people did all the playing, consoling of the losers, celebrating the winners, healing the injured, educating the players’ children and so on. As if the referees became a totalitarian body instead of one with specific, limited task that its qualified to perform. No one would tolerate this happening in any field of competitive sports. And by all accounts there are very few scandals, too, involving sport referees, umpires, et al. Because with a specific, limited job to do, they can be easily watched.
The government, however, is now ubiquitous. I am reminded of this each time I travel by air, what with all those TSA people milling about issuing mostly rude orders, applying rules inconsistently from one airport to the other. The more power they get over travelers, the less civilized they become. (I questioned their decision to toss my toothpaste at one airport after three of them had no objection and one bully threatened to expel me from the airport, as if they were not working for me but I was their subject.)
How many more Spitzers do we need to experience, how many more members of Congress need to be caught hitting on their pages, how many more of them must defraud us, how many more judges need to be taken off the bench for misconduct before American voters learn that entrusting the government to handle their problems is a futile, pointless, fantastic venture and just leads to the piling of mistakes upon mistakes. Is it simply because there are so many utopian dreamers among us who fall pray to the notion that a sweet talking politician is all we really need to fix everything? Are most people so stupid? Or is it because for some twenty years most of us get taken care of by parents and then we transfer this to government, as if they were our parents--or Nannies?
But perhaps the real answer is the fairly common sense one. That is that it hasn’t been all that long that people were informed that their lives belong to them and they have the responsibility to care of it, with a little help from their friends and a good deal of it from people with whom they trade in the free, voluntary, self-correcting market place. For centuries on end, indeed for millennia, a few folks ruled the rest, making them believe that this was the natural order among people. Millions of people had no say about their lives at all. The intellectuals were busy producing rationalizations for this state of affairs for most of human history and only very, very recently did it surface that it was all a ruse, that there is no inherited aristocracy around in whom we can place our trust.
Maybe as Ayn Rand said, it really is much earlier than we think.