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Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Myths of the Progressives and Big Government

Modern Federalism is different from original federalism in the size and scope of powers undertaken by government now as to when our Constitution was first envisioned. (To a certain extent, the same applies to state and local governments). Modern Federalism is the result of the progressive movement and philosophy of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It rests on three main presumptions: (i) that the common person (worker) is incapable of protecting or providing for themselves in world of rapacious corporations, economic chaos, and other dangers, and therefore needs a paternal government; (ii) that there exists a group of dispassionate scientists and experts that by dint of their education, training and experience, is better suited and more capable of directing government and human progress than the masses; and (iii) by giving these experts control over the operation of the government, and the power to implement their plans and policies, these experts can guide a nation and humanity into a better, more prosperous future.

Given many of the problems that rapidly arose during the industrial revolution--public sanitation issues, worker safety issues, the explosion of urban populations, the rise of large corporations and distribution networks, social upheaval due to mass immigration and the formation of unions--it is understandable why people wanted to believe in the progressive myth. But it is a myth.

There is a need, to a certain extent, for government to intervene in the lives of citizens. At a minimum, government must serve as a referee and protector of life and property rights. This is why the basic functions of government includes a fair and impartial judiciary, some basic form of law enforcement to protect against crimes and to enforce decisions of the courts, and a military to protect against foreign aggression. Based on these basic principles, governments have often taken on other duties, such as establishing standard weights and measures, and minting currency, as  a means of protecting against fraud. However, there are those that believe that government is more than just a referee, or watchdog, and must take on a more protective role. A role that is easily twisted. Orwell used the term "Big Brother" to describe the tyrant in his book 1984 as someone that watched over the needs and wants of the populace. Today, he might of described the same character as a "helicopter mom." The myth is that a government can be paternal without being tyrannical. It cannot, because the role is essentially the same. I have to be a "tyrant" over my children because they lack the skill and ability to care for themselves--they are not adults. As they become older, children are afforded more freedom and responsibility, while the powers and duties of the parent begin to diminish. A parent has no more than moral influence over a child that has grown to an adult--the child is now fully responsible for its decisions, and the consequences. A paternal government is one that, by definition and necessity, has determined that its citizens are incapable of governing their lives, or responsible for consequences--it must assume the care and safekeeping of its citizens, which necessarily means that the citizens are not allowed to make the decisions affecting their lives. A paternal government is incompatible with a free citizenry.

The second presumption is also a myth. Yes, there are experts, but they are flawed. Science is still, very much, a human enterprise. It has its biases, frauds, dogma, reputations to protect, money and influence to gather, hidden agendas, and emotions. There are no dispassionate experts guided solely by the evidence.

It is likewise a myth that these experts are better suited to govern your life than you are. How can they? Assuming for sake of argument that these experts truly represent the best and the brightest (which is a very great assumption), they will always be information deficiencies and shortfalls. They can only operate in the abstract, basing decisions on statistical information and models, and their past experience. Of course there is no demi-god of an expert running everything--instead, these experts preside over lessor experts and drones that carry out their wishes. These wishes are conveyed as policies and regulations, formed over a long period of time, which are derived from science or some other fields, which as I mentioned above, is flawed. So, not only do we start with flawed science or another field informing our experts, who are no dispassionate, but they are incapable of individualizing their expertise to the needs of a particular citizen. Moreover, like a bloated slug, they are incapable of collating and acting promptly on new information or conditions.

The third presumption--that these experts will guide us to a more prosperous future--is also a myth. They cannot because they do not know what the better and more prosperous future will be. Because they don't know the future, they cling to the status quo. History is replete with  experts in particular fields convinced that there were no new discoveries to be made, that maximum efficiencies had been reached, or that certain new products would fail.

The other problem with this presumption is that these experts are not interested in your future. They are interested in their future, their children's future, their dynasty and place in history. Handing power over to entrenched experts and bureaucrats is just another way of creating an autocracy.

So where does this get us? It gets us Detroit, where experts ran amok for decades and destroyed a once great industrial city. It gives us an IRS whose employees and directors apparently believed they could use their power to correctly guide Americans as to which presidential candidate to support. It leads to global cooling deniers that can't accept that their pet theory is falling apart before their eyes. It leads to a bloated, unresponsive government more concerned with its perks than the welfare of the public. It leads to a situation where law enforcement is given broader and broader powers to monitor your every action, while at the same time limiting your ability to act to protect yourself. And by concentrating so much power and money into one entity, it leads to corruption and crony capitalism, for corruptions is drawn to money and power as surely as flies to a rotten carcase.

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