Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Welfare State Follies

Tibor R. Machan

By all historical accounts the fully free society has never been tried, so arguing about it will always be to a large extent theoretical. But than nearly all of contemporary astrophysics is theoretical, as it much of psychology and other social sciences in which controlled experiments are not possible or permissible.

Based, however, on much thinking and research, some of it historical enough, there is no reasonable doubt about the benefit of human liberty in all realms of human endeavor. Unfortunately the sole trial has been conducted in the realm covered by the First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, effecting religion and the arts and humanities (including journalism). And few other than out and out Fascists and theocrats deny that in these areas freedom has been all to the good! It may, therefore, be reasonably inferred that liberty would mostly likely serve us well in all areas of human concern, including the financial markets and even emergency services, two in which recent upheavals haven’t been dealt with swimmingly by the welfare state. That’s despite the fact that welfare state measures--namely vast government interference in various professions and ordinary human activities--are most often defended on the grounds that they are needed to prevent or cope with disasters, financial or natural! It is here where welfare state advocates roll out their market failure arguments, examples (mostly imagined) where free men and women are unable or unwilling to solve problems successfully.

Yet, despite piles of government regulations imposed year after year, with bureaucrats being given immense powers to regiment the society--supported by both the Left and the Right, though focused on different “failures”--the disasters keep coming and the prominent pundits, such as The New York Times’ line of the welfare state’s cheerleaders (like Paul Krugman, Bob Herbert, at al.) keep trying to blame freedom for them all. No sooner does some trouble arise, these folks chime in with the same mantra: We need more government! And they support these incantations with the blatant falsehood that America is in the grips of market fundamentalism!

But what seems to be the real culprit for mounting troubles is not freedom, not free markets, but all the phony government supports Congress and other bodies politic keep erecting so as to pretend to be helping everyone. All the financial woes come from the easy credit that is mostly the policy of all the governments whose “public servants” promise to solve all our problems by stealing from Peter to aid Paul--an endless daisy chain of the government’s version of Ponzi schemes. The lack of ability to cope with natural disasters, too, comes from all the reckless faith in government supporter of which, sadly, still manage to get away with claiming that government is the answer. (Just check out the bulk of the current crop of candidates to verify this!)

Is it so unthinkable that if the government didn’t pretend to help us, we would put our minds to the task of finding solutions ourselves? Given all the flaws with the very idea of government solutions--flaws pointed out in well developed, Nobel Prize winning work such as “public choice theory” that shows how politicians are mostly promoters of their vested interests--it should be clear by now that moving in the direction of a more and more free society is much more promising than moving away from one.

Alas, the temptation to rely on coercion so as to get solutions to one’s problems is very powerful and has been yielded to virtually throughout human history. So there is probably not going to be a quick turnaround from such a trend even if, like the hope that one is going to win big in Vegas, gets shattered over and over again. Attempts to get where one wants to go by means of discredited shortcuts keep being made and there is only very slow progress toward embracing full freedom. Nonetheless, it is really the only genuine systematic solution to the problems the promoters of the welfare state create and keep promising to handle just fine.