Column on Why they Don’t Get it

Why don’t they get it?
Tibor R. Machan
No matter how many politicians proceed to act self-destructively, engage
in corruption, violate elementary principles of civilized conduct as New
York governor Eliot Spitzer had done, the idea that they can be elected to
office to take care of us, to handle the bulk of our problems, may be
trusted with our income to spend it wisely and virtuously remains nearly
immune to criticism. They keep promising to handle everything we find
troubling in our lives and the majority of Americans–not to mention
others around the globe–continue with their governmental habit, as if
they still lived in an absolute monarchy where the king or queen are taken
to be God’s agents and are expected to be “keepers of the realm.” That
famous legal doctrine of the police power is still part of our system,
according to which government may impose its will on us for our own good,
just as if the myth of its benevolence had not be disproved a thousand
times over and over again.
What is it about people who for all appearances are reasonably competent
in their private and professional lives lose their good sense when it
comes to trusting the system? Yes, the system was to be one limited to
certain minimal functions instead of allowed to become bloated in its
scope, at least as the American founders conceived of it. But it is
evident that their idea of the nature of government has by now been
totally perverted, corrupted. It is as if the game were now not just
refereed by those people in the striped shirts but those people did all
the playing, consoling of the losers, celebrating the winners, healing the
injured, educating the players’ children and so on. As if the referees
became a totalitarian body instead of one with specific, limited task that
its qualified to perform. No one would tolerate this happening in any
field of competitive sports. And by all accounts there are very few
scandals, too, involving sport referees, umpires, et al. Because with a
specific, limited job to do, they can be easily watched.
The government, however, is now ubiquitous. I am reminded of this each
time I travel by air, what with all those TSA people milling about issuing
mostly rude orders, applying rules inconsistently from one airport to the
other. The more power they get over travelers, the less civilized they
become. (I questioned their decision to toss my toothpaste at one airport
after three of them had no objection and one bully threatened to expel me
from the airport, as if they were not working for me but I was their
How many more Spitzers do we need to experience, how many more members of
Congress need to be caught hitting on their pages, how many more of them
must defraud us, how many more judges need to be taken off the bench for
misconduct before American voters learn that entrusting the government to
handle their problems is a futile, pointless, fantastic venture and just
leads to the piling of mistakes upon mistakes. Is it simply because there
are so many utopian dreamers among us who fall pray to the notion that a
sweet talking politician is all we really need to fix everything? Are most
people so stupid? Or is it because for some twenty years most of us get
taken care of by parents and then we transfer this to government, as if
they were our parents–or Nannies?
But perhaps the real answer is the fairly common sense one. That is that
it hasn’t been all that long that people were informed that their lives
belong to them and they have the responsibility to care of it, with a
little help from their friends and a good deal of it from people with whom
they trade in the free, voluntary, self-correcting market place. For
centuries on end, indeed for millennia, a few folks ruled the rest, making
them believe that this was the natural order among people. Millions of
people had no say about their lives at all. The intellectuals were busy
producing rationalizations for this state of affairs for most of human
history and only very, very recently did it surface that it was all a
ruse, that there is no inherited aristocracy around in whom we can place
our trust.
Maybe as Ayn Rand said, it really is much earlier than we think.

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