Mar 22

The Slow March to Anarchy, Part 2

Although I have tried to explain their underpinnings in the last post, most people consider my political views to be rather extreme.  When it comes to method, however, I take a far more cautious approach.  My approach is still underwritten by general principles, however, including the following:

We ought to do what works:

It’s very useful to have a vision for how things should be.  It helps give direction and purpose to political planning, and without it, it is easy to simply accept whatever view sounds interesting at the moment without careful reflection on the costs or consequences.  However, when we find something that actually works, we have to be willing to subjugate our ideological concerns for the welfare of others.  The reason for this is that it is always easier to be mistaken about broad, general issues than it is in evaluating the success of certain projects.  Seeing Norman Borlaug feed billions of people who otherwise would have starved through agricultural developments and genetic engineering of crops, and still insisting the whole world regress to organic farming is either callous beyond measure or utterly insane.  Although alternative explanations for results should be considered, we can often tell that some ideas are working, and we should stick with them if they do, even if our general political views are hard to square with them.  Blindness to success, and a willingness to force people to suffer rather than reconsider one’s political worldview, are fundamentally immoral.  On a related note, insistence on persisting in projects that are obviously unsuccessful because your views tell you it must work eventually is similarly immoral.  Seeing 100,000,000 innocent dead, for example, at the hands of Marx’s vision, and insisting we’ll get it right one time can only be the cry of a madman (or an academic).  One should always adjust to the facts on the ground, not insist that they aren’t there because they don’t fit one’s ideology.

We should understand the costs of government action:

Nothing in life is free, and money that’s “the governments” doesn’t magically appear in a large pile waiting to be doled out as people wish.  When we choose to do something through government action, we are required to take money out of people’s pockets.  In addition, we are choosing to use their money on one cause rather than another.  Therefore, the idea “this would be good to do, let’s get the government on it” is almost never a good one.  Governments pay for programs by taking money away from people and directing it toward one cause rather than another.  Taking people’s money isn’t a good thing, and poor prioritizing just makes it worse.  The real test of government is “can government do this better than anyone else, and is it vital enough to justify forcing everyone else to pay for it?”  The answer to both questions is usually “no”.

The consequences are hard to see:

The effects of our plans never stay limited to our area of interest.  If we decide to help out farmers by preventing other people from growing food, we raise the cost of bread, and poor people go hungry.  Policy decisions are brought down on everyone’s head, so we should be cautious in implementing our decisions.  However, if people have options to choose from when they face problems, we can limit the scope of bad policies and have more opportunities to see which things are working.  This is probably the best argument for state’s rights, and trying things at the local level before they go federal.  It’s an even better argument for leaving things to the free market whenever possible, so everyone can work on solving everyone else’s problems.

Stability Matters:

One cost that people don’t think about enough is the cost of adjustment.  Think about every time Facebook changes its homepage.  People go nuts.  It doesn’t matter what the changes are, it doesn’t matter if they might turn out to be improvements, a huge group of people inevitably hate it.  Why?  Because they liked the old one just fine, and now they have to adjust to something new.  People don’t like periods of adjustment, and change for its own sake is never worth it.

Speed Kills:

For the reasons just given, trying to implement large-scale changes quickly will almost certainly be a disaster.  Fortunately, things are designed in this country to run with beautiful inefficiency.  When people see a problem, there is a natural tendency to want to solve it right away.  But when we are dealing with large-scale policies, it is far better to take a lot of time to hear everyone out on the potential problems, and make sure that we are actually making things better instead of worse in our efforts to help.

Massive suffering is the most important political concern:

There are plenty of places in the world where the average life is absolutely horrid.  People live in squalor, disease runs rampant, people starve and die young, genocidal maniacs kill millions, women are locked indoors and beaten for failure to satisfy their husband’s every whim.  Great evil exists in this world, and there’s plenty of massive suffering even in its absence.  People cannot live a life of freedom or hope or prosperity in such conditions.  Alleviating such suffering is a moral imperative that supersedes our other concerns where they conflict, and where such suffering can be alleviated.

Resources aren’t fixed:

For decades, people have been insisting that the world is going to be horrible in the future because we are using one thing or another too often.  People seem to think that our current level of a resource is all we’ll ever have, and that it’s value in the future will nonetheless remain constant.  These things aren’t true.  Usable oil supplies keep going up because when we started to use up the easily accessible oil, we’ll found ways to access oil that’s harder to get to.  When we start to use that up, we’ll find other ways to power our vehicles, ones that will almost certainly become more efficient.  People who face problems find ways to solve them.  Requiring that people in the future remain as creative in their lives as we had to be to live ours isn’t a hardship, it’s part of life.  Making people suffer now so that people in the future won’t have to find new ways to use resources, or ways to create new resources, doesn’t make sense. Certainly, wrecking the environment completely, or changing policies so that people in the future can’t implement their solutions would be horrible things to do to those who will come after us.  Using what we have to improve our quality of life, however, and trusting that people in the future will continue to be smart enough to do the same with what they have available to them, is not immoral.

Results: The slow march to anarchy:

While I think that we should eventually get rid of the government if possible, I certainly don’t support a dramatic revolution to get there.  People currently need the things that government provides, and we don’t currently have the private institutions we would need in place to fulfill a number of vital government functions.  We should starting making them, however, and start reducing the government in size as we find viable alternatives.

Government solutions have an impact on entire societies.  Non-governmental ones are optional for people, and so we can try a large number of them without the unforeseen side-effects crippling an entire society.  Private charity is vital to solving the problems of the world, and we should try as many good ideas as we can to see what really helps people.  In the process, we will be developing private alternatives to government solutions that can show that we can handle the problems we face without the intervention of government.

This effort to solve problems cannot be merely local.  We are a part of a global society, and we should want everyone’s involvement in our efforts to make the world a better place.  We can’t have a stable non-governmental option in the presence of widespread global suffering.  We should all want to help people who are suffering, wherever they are in the world.  We will benefit from doing so, because it is always better to have a larger group of people and resources to draw from, and because prosperous societies rarely find much benefit in warring with their trade partners.  Ending global poverty will help ensure national security without the need for military action.  It will make us all more prosperous and capable of helping one another.  And, most importantly, it’s the right thing to do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>