As I was running in the gym this evening I had my choice of six channels on the TVs mounted to the ceiling. The one directly in front of me was tuned to MSNBC, and they were covering the President’s inauguration with glowing praise.
There were the crowds, and the Obama family, and Beyonce, and Paul Ryan getting booed. Flags waived. Cameras panned the Washington Mall as Americans gazed upon their president with wide eyes and the occasional tear.
And I thought to myself, “How can these people fall for this stuff?”
Now saying this, I was no Romney fan either, just to be clear. But all the pomp and BS was all a bit much. I was about to switch over to weights when I remembered that I had a Youtube app on my phone. I pulled it out of my pocket. In my subscriptions feed I saw the below video from Milton Friedman. I tuned out MSNBC and tuned into the professor.
It was right at the very end of this great clip that I was reminded of a great political and economic truth.
As Friedman says, Statism is an easy sell. It’s simple. If there is a problem in the world one must solve it. How does one solve societal problems? With government of course.
It makes sense. This is why many statist folks are flabbergasted when freemarketeers sneer at regulation. Don’t you get it? Says the statist. There’s a problem. You solve it with government. I mean, duh? How can you not get this simple concept? I know why. You have ulterior motives. You don’t want problems solved because you must profit from them. I mean why else?
Or something to that effect.
It’s like a hop over a checker. Simple, straight forward, and easy to sell.
Of course that’s where the simplicity ends, as Friedman also points out in the clip. Once the bureaucrats get a hold of a little bit of power they seek to complexify a situation until it is so twisted with regs no one but the bureaucrat has any idea what is going on. And even then the bureaucrats often don’t know what’s going on.
A simple, seemingly obvious remedy—government intervention, becomes almost every time a disaster of opacity and waste. Simple problems become CFs of red tape and confusion.
But again, government action is easy to sell to those who do not understand the beauty of markets. Something is broken. Call the government to fix it. Easy done. Moving on. Why would we let the “market” sort it out?
It rarely occurs to the people calling in the government that perhaps the government will create more problems than it solves. Indeed this concept is so foreign, that when something breaks in our society due to government intervention, the call by many is almost always for yet more government intervention. It’s ridiculous. But I wonder if it is just a reflection of a checkers mentality in a world which demands an understanding of chess.
The free marketeer is more like the chess player.
Now I make a distinction here. I am not using the term “free marketeer” as just another word for “conservative.” There is an important distinction between the two. Conservatives can, and often do, have more in common with statists than free marketeers.
Free market people have a better understanding of chain reactions and of unintended consequences than their statist brothers and sisters. They think a few moves ahead while also understanding the limit of their foresight.
Just because there is a problem in society does not mean that government must intervene.
Will the problem solve itself? Often it does. This is a good outcome and one which is inexpensive and efficient.
Problem not going away? Is it the cause of prior government action? More often than not it is. The solution? Roll back the bad regulation.
Is a “problem” even a problem?
Society is a living, breathing being. It is organic in nature. It spins out in fractal complexity in every direction. The free marketeer understands this and is humbled by this reality.
He or she understands that disrupting one undesirable trend with heavy handed government may in the end create more problems than originally we had to deal with. We waste time, effort, and resources, while making life harder for ourselves. I think of the War on Drugs and the War on Poverty here.
And even though markets are beautiful, and I think a far better way to look at the world than through concrete block statism, the free market is a much tougher sell than statism. It demands a somewhat “sophisticated” understanding of the the universe, as Friedman put it above.
Statism, again is simple. Problem exists? Bang on it with the hammer of government until problem goes away. (Or more likely morphs into another problem, which will then require the blunt hammer of the state again.)
However selling freedom is worth the effort. It may take a bit more to get people to understand the benefits, but for any people which wishes to be, or remain free it is a sale which needs to be made with each generation.
*One important note. I am not saying people who embrace statism are stupid. Far from it. My point is that for a large part of the voting population statism is the easier sell.