Looking at my last few posts I see I’ve been harping more on libertarians. I think the reason I haven’t said a lot about the weaknesses of liberal thought is that conservatives have done a very good job exposing them already. But I suppose someone might say I’m not a liberaltarian, I’m just a liberal, so I’ve decided to do this post.
Liberals have as much overconfidence about the benevolence and competence of government as libertarians have about the fairness and efficiency of capitalism. Big government programs have a lot of problems. They are inefficient. They impose a lot of overhead, and generally don’t offer an incentive structure that rewards hard work. This could be accepted as a necessary evil to accomplish an important goal, but a lot of times these programs don’t even accomplish their stated goals.
If you live in California you may have seen those little signs that say something like this, “Somewhere in this building is a chemical that the state of California has determined causes cancer.” That’s all the sign says. There’s no information about what the chemical is, or where, or how to identify it, or how to avoid it. That sign is totally useless. I guess you could decide not to go into that building, but there are so many chemicals on the list that those signs are everywhere. The only way to avoid those signs is to stay at home and not leave the house. Helping people avoid dangerous chemicals in their environment is a laudable goal. Those signs do not achieve that goal, and in the process they add a lot of overhead.
A lot of government requirements are like that. Some of the security measures implemented after 9/11, and the Sarbanes/Oxley law implemented after the Enron scandal are two good examples. This usually happens after a big problem. People are in an uproar that the government should do something. And the government does something without being too concerned about whether what they do will actually solve the problem.
It gets more insidious. Many government programs aren’t even intended for the public good. Sure, there’s a veneer of helping the public painted on it, but the real intent is to benefit some special interest. Congress says it’s trying to help small family farmers but 95% of the benefit goes to giant agribusiness.
And finally, there’s the cost to freedom. My mom is a petite woman who is worried about being injured by the airbag in her car. You can’t buy a car without an airbag nowadays. At the dealer she asked if she could get the airbag taken out or turned off. They told her she had to write to a certain government agency and explain why she doesn’t want an airbag. If they give her permission then she can have a switch installed to turn the airbag off.
She needs government permission to turn off the airbag in her own car.
The problem is that liberals don’t see a problem with this. It’s just natural to them that the government should be in control of everything. We can’t let people make decisions for themselves. People might make the wrong decision, and since the goverment knows what’s best for you let’s just have the government tell everyone what to do.
There are so many things wrong with that philosophy. The government doesn’t make perfect decisions. The government doesn’t necessarily have your best interests in mind. But most of all, freedom is important. We should avoid telling people what to do whenever possible. It should require extraordinary reasons for us to begrudgingly give up some of our freedom. It should not be done as a matter of course.