Archive for Monday, August 1, 2011

Libertarian trends undercut government

August 1, 2011


— August is upon us, beaches beckon, and Michele Bachmann has set the self-improvement bar high. She recently told The Wall Street Journal, “When I go on vacation and I lay on the beach, I bring von Mises.” The congresswoman may be the first person ever to dribble sun lotion on the section of Ludwig von Mises’ “Human Action” wherein the Austrian economist (1881-1973) discussed “the formal and aprioristic character of praxeology.”

Autodidacts less exacting than Bachmann should spill sand on the pages of “The Declaration of Independents: How Libertarian Politics Can Fix What’s Wrong With America” by Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch. These incurably upbeat journalists with Reason magazine believe that not even government, try as it will, can prevent onrushing social improvement.

“Confirmation bias” is the propensity to believe news that confirms our beliefs. Gillespie and Welch say “existence bias” disposes us to believe that things that exist always will. The authors say that the most ossified, sclerotic sectors of American life — politics and government — are about to be blown up by new capabilities, especially the Internet, and the public’s wholesome impatience that is encouraged by them.

“Think of any customer experience that has made you wince or kick the cat. What jumps to mind? Waiting in multiple lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Observing the bureaucratic sloth and lowest-common-denominator performance of public schools, especially in big cities. Getting ritually humiliated going through airport security. Trying desperately to understand your doctor bills. Navigating the permitting process at your local city hall. Wasting a day at home while the gas man fails to show up. Whatever you come up with, chances are good that the culprit is either a direct government monopoly (as in the providers of K-12 education) or a heavily regulated industry or utility where the government is the largest player (as in health care).”

Since 1970, per pupil real, inflation-adjusted spending has doubled and the teacher-pupil ratio has declined substantially. But math and reading scores are essentially unchanged, so we are spending much more to achieve the same results. America has the shortest school year in the industrial world, an academic calendar — speaking of nostalgia — suited to an America when children were needed on the farms and ranches in the late spring and early autumn. “No other industry,” Gillespie and Welch write, “still adheres to a calendar based on 19th-century agricultural cycles — even agriculture has given up that schedule.”

In the 1950s, A&P; supermarkets (remember them? You probably don’t) had a 75 percent market share. What used to be the General Motors Building near Central Park South has an Apple store where the automobile showroom once was. When Kodak loses customers, it withers.

But when government fails, it expands even faster. This is, Gillespie and Welch say, because “politics is a lagging indicator of change,” a sector of top-down traditions increasingly out of step with today’s “bottom-up business and culture” of: “You want soy with that decaf mocha frappuccino?”

A generation that has grown up with the Internet “has essentially been raised libertarian,” swimming in markets, which are choices among competing alternatives.

And the left weeps. Preaching what has been called nostalgianomics, liberals mourn the passing of the days when there was one phone company, three car companies, three television networks, an airline cartel, and big labor and big business were cozy with big government.

The America of one universally known list of Top 40 records is as gone as records. When the Census offered people the choice of checking the “multiracial” category, Maxine Waters, then chairing the Congressional Black Caucus, was indignant: “Letting individuals opt out of the current categories just blurs everything.” This is the voice of reactionary liberalism: No blurring, no changes, no escape from old categories, spin the world back to the 1950s.

“Declaration of Independents” is suitable reading for this summer of debt-ceiling debate, which has been a proxy for a bigger debate, which is about nothing less than this: What should be the nature of the American regime? America is moving in the libertarians’ direction not because they have won an argument but because government and the sectors it dominates have made themselves ludicrous. This has, however, opened minds to the libertarians’ argument.

The essence of which is the commonsensical principle that before government interferes with the freedom of the individual, and of individuals making consensual transactions in markets, it ought to have a defensible reason for doing so. It usually does not.

— George Will is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email address is


cato_the_elder 6 years, 9 months ago

Based on my experience, those young people of today who are blessed with intelligence don't want government intruding into either their personal lives or their pocketbooks. That's why so many of them are incensed at the massive debt that's been inflicted on them by politicians of their parents' generation, and, for example, the prospect of government determining what kind of health care they can obtain when they get older. While unbridled libertarianism has its flaws, its basic tenets are consistent with the innate human desire to achieve success, which intelligent young people today wish to do without undue government interference.

Alyosha 6 years, 9 months ago

The line "liberals mourn the passing of the days when there was one phone company, three car companies, three television networks, an airline cartel, and big labor and big business were cozy with big government" is laughably wrong.

But of course G. Will wouldn't have anything to write if he were held to writing something that had a factual basis.

Liberals, if you can so generalize, mourn the passing of the days when government power was used for ordinary citizens' benefit to limit oligarchic power over common citizens' liberty.

Liberals, like the founders, believe governmental policies should favor the common citizen, not the aristocrats and monied interests.

notanota 6 years, 9 months ago

George hasn't seen the lobby offices the big three phone companies have in DC, has he? They might as well have a monopoly. They use different frequencies to make switching phones between networks impossible and lock customers into two year contracts. Over in socialist Europe, you can buy a dirt-cheap pre-paid SIM card from at least half a dozen different companies that works on just about any phone.

Mike Ford 6 years, 9 months ago

in the state of Kansas, misled common people vote for the very politicians who practice financial and social darwinism on them as they sell the family values lie and all the other garbage they use while leading these people down the street with the flute.

tbaker 6 years, 9 months ago

Whoever’s elected in November next year will be the last president of the United States to preside over the world’s dominant economic power. Our country is in decline becuase we have a federal government that is way too big and spends way too much on the mistaken idea it should be doing what our founders ment for people to do for themselves.

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it" — Frederic Bastiat

notanota 6 years, 9 months ago

"A generation that has grown up with the Internet “has essentially been raised libertarian,” swimming in markets, which are choices among competing alternatives."

Huh. Let me go look that up on this here network built primarily around a system of connected government and university computers. I think I'll use that search engine they developed over at Stanford.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

And you posit an imaginary perfect world that even you admit has never existed anywhere, ever.

And if we don't "trust" you on how perfect it would be, it's because we "hate freedom."

Can I have a coke with those freedom fries?

tbaker 6 years, 9 months ago

"No longer defend government but instead attack freedom."

Very well put Liberty.

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