Tibor R. Machan
Maybe I need some help here. I just cannot get used to how so many people
are so confident that government regulators are better people than the
rest of us. Not just better but smarter, too. Indeed, whatever virtue we
ought to cultivate in our lives, a great many folks appear to believe
government regulators have them while the rest of us don’t.
Over and over I run across comments from prominent people to the effect,
Left, Right and everywhere, that if only government were to regulate some
activity, it would bring far better results than otherwise. I recall
listening to former NBC-TV anchor Tom Brokaw once, many moons ago,
reporting about some politician who got caught stealing or doing something
else criminal and then turning to a story about dolphins somewhere in
Florida that were being shown the tourists even though the establishment
wasn’t regulated by the government. How awful! Then just today I read in
The New York Times how some entrepreneurs are offering loan modification
as a service for a fee to people who are worried about not being able to
continue to pay high mortgages. These persons were referred to as
predators, without a scintilla of evidence of any wrong-doing by them.
Their crime: They wanted to earn a living off providing this service. Like
those greedy umbrella makers who want to make a living off shielding
people from the rain!
Of course, perhaps I don’t need help at all. Perhaps it is plain that
millions of people entrust their lives, property, future, and so forth to
government officials–after all they have had these kind of officials
running their lives for centuries on end. A king here, a tsar there, a
pharaoh at another place, then some tribal chief somewhere else, with all
their minions! Throughout human history millions have been ruled, ordered
about, used without their consent, and this policy is still being promoted
by many political theorists and, of course, editors of elite publications
such as The New York Times or The New York Review of Books.
But it is amazing how confidently the idea is advanced that what we all
need so as to fix problems that face us is some elite bunch to take over
the running of our lives–the bulk of our commercial, scientific,
cultural, education, and similar endeavors. Yes, that’s the ticket–get
some bureaucrat to be in charge, with presumably magic powers, and the
credit crisis, the AIDs epidemic, mis-education, inattention, laziness,
imprudence, and the like will all be set aright.
What is amazing is that this all means nothing other than the idea that
some people using coercive force upon others will fix things. Yes, the
solution to our problems in so many areas is nothing else but brute force
and its threat. For that is what government does when it regulates
everyone, regiments us, takes over the running of our lives. After all,
the proper task of government is the reaction to force that is initiated
against the citizenry. Protective force, that’s what governments are
supposed to be good at. That’s why when cops make excessive use of force,
they are deemed to be engaged in malpractice.
But why are so many confident that if only coercion is deployed in
aggressive, entirely non-defensive ways, matters will be improved for
sure? Ordinarily we all realize that while using force in self-defense is
OK, using it to solve problems that do not involve someone raising and
hand and such is verboten. The criminal law acknowledges this in most
places. So why then when it comes to public policies do so many people
accept it without much protest that officials may deploy force and its
Maybe it is because for thousands of years that was the norm and civilized
behavior has only recently made a bit of headway in human community life.
That may be the shred of optimism in all this, namely, that humanity is
just at the start of expunging brutality, banning violence, when it comes
to reaching solutions. One can only hope the long range trend will
continue and in time this misplaced trust in government will disappear.