Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One Cheer More

Update:  However, If I Were King...

Folks of a libertarian bent are fond of rhetoric claiming to dislike just about everything about government. Certainly, the ultimate extension of libertarianism would be some form of anarchy, though that comes in several flavors. More commonly, there is a fondness for quoting one political thinker or another about a sharply limited role for government – defending the borders, issuing a currency, and some sort of system for resolving disputes.

Yet almost no one actually means this. People like roads - including Interstates which were constitutionally controversial when they came on the scene – and have little objection to police and fire departments in principle, however badly they think things are managed. I doubt you could get much of a percentage on a referendum to stop funding public schools, even if you had a fully-ready, more efficient alternative advertised. People who say “no cheers for government” actually mean “one cheer for government.”

That plays out similarly at the other end of the spectrum. No one wants to get caught looking so uncynical and easily-duped as to say “three cheers for government,” so folks retain their self-respect by saying “two cheers for government.” There are elaborate rituals and disclaimers that go with this, sighing ruefully that yes, yes, government and bureaucracy do complicate matters and sometimes make things worse; that the people who go into government are not our best sorts; that most of all, government usually only partly delivers on its proposed goods and is very expensive. Alas, alack, and well-a-day. But what else shall we do? We must have these things, and we can improve the government problems by having more Accountability, which is of course just more government.

Thus, I don’t think we should be fooled. Two Cheers For Government is really just one of those moustache and glasses disguises over Three Cheers For Government.
There is cheer-deflation going on, with everyone pretending to dislike government more than they actually do. The upshot is that the people claiming 2 cheers get to think of themselves as calm, reasoned, and measured, even if they actually are extremists. I would say that they get to paint their opposition as extremists, but as the zero-cheer folks seem to actually be embracing it, it’s hard to blame it entirely on others. Still, there are attempts from the 3 Cheers people (Stop. That’s not fair. I’m only a 2 Cheers person. This is my real nose, glasses, and moustache.) to make lists from time-to-time of how much everyone likes government stuff, as if there actually were movements afoot to board up town hall, knocking down a man that’s at least mostly straw. Boarding up Washington DC, maybe.

Without the deflation, however, it would be clearer who was arguing for what among the 1, 2, and 3 Cheer contingents. I like clarity.

People’s reasons for looking to government are often naïve, starry-eyed, and refusing to engage reality, but they aren’t entirely crazy. Guaranteeing various civil rights usually comes up, not unfairly. It may indeed have eventually but more slowly occurred that blacks got fully voting and other rights in the 60’s, as the state-by-state trend was clearly in that direction, and courts were consistently ruling against legislatures. (Thurgood Marshall believed for that reason all the protests were unnecessary and put people at risk, for example.) Schools might have gradually integrated, or at least the states could have done the gradual mandating instead of the feds. Yet it does seem in retrospect that the federal solution was efficient. Lots of unfortunate downstream effects from things like affirmative action did indeed occur, and ignoring those is not being fully upright and realistic. But the simple fact is that the less-dramatic strategies had not in fact yet worked.

People might have eventually worn seatbelts – but they weren’t. It’s a slippery slope that leads to limiting soda cup sizes in restaurants, but really, requiring people to wear seatbelts in order to use community thoroughfares doesn’t bother me.

It irritates me greatly when people make arguments for a new government service or regulation that they should know aren’t true, but ignore because they want what they want and they are willing to say anything. (“What? People still use the emergency rooms unnecessarily just as much even when they’ve got health insurance? That can’t be true. And we never said it would save money…oh, we did? No, that’s not possible. You must just want poor people to be sick so that you can have more money to pollute the environment with your pickup truck... The new job training and scholarship programs are actually costing us about $250K per $25K job? Well, at least they have jobs and are contributing back to the economy, right?”) Irritates is actually not a strong enough word. But I’m a one-and-a-half cheers for government guy.

Sans plastic nose.


Texan99 said...

I'm probably unusually far down the scale towards libertarianism, but that's not to say that I don't acknowledge a useful role for government. It's really more a question of insisting that we think through whether each situation is best resolved with maximum uniformity backed up by force. Lots of social problems aren't, in my view. On the other hand, when you've got one that is, you really need that maximum uniformity backed up by force.

But it's tricky enough to tell where that line should be drawn if you're aware of the hard trade-offs. It's almost impossible if your philosophy is that everything that's not unbridled individualism must be government. In fact, of course, there are many excellent ways to create public interpersonal order and safety and prosperity via voluntary institutions--and the more of them there are, in good functioning order, the less government we need.

james said...

And there's the complexity added when you live in dense cities. In the country we can all have a big leaf bonfire and nobody cares, in the burbs nothing gets hurt if everybody on the block starts up a fire pit, but if everybody on a city block does the smoke and crowding get to be hazardous. Since courtesy seems to be reduced in big groups, people require lots of laws, sometimes micromanaging laws, to handle the problems resulting from density and lack of courtesy.

That's my model for why our bigger cities tend to be run by statists.

Texan99 said...

Yes, there are human problems like national defense and epidemics that require fast, expert coordination of large groups who hadn't previously self-identified and joined up. And a similar problem is presented by very high density living arrangements, where things can reach a tipping point very fast, perhaps too fast for informal voluntary arrangements to be able to respond to an emergency.

Sam L. said...

I started wearing seat belts in '69 when I bought a car that had them (they were rolled up behind the seat at the floor bolts). I put in bigger belt with 2 shoulder straps because it was a sports car, and I'd read that I'd have better control of the car if I were fixed in the seat. (Race cars had seat belts.)

For all the rest, yeah...