Column on Are Our Leaders Superior?

Are our "Leaders" Superior?

Tibor R. Machan

When people talk about how market agents need to be regulated because, well, without it they could do bad things, it never fails to amaze me how narrow-minded is this line of reasoning. When human beings are fit for regulation by others, they are usually children and the others are their parents or guardians. So it has to do with who is an adult, who is not. Makes sense.

But when it is about adult citizens allegedly requiring regulation by other adult citizens, it is simply baffling. It used to be, back in the really old days (and in some regions of the globe even now), that societies were segmented into separate classes, upper, middle, lower and such, but that is all nonsense. While we may not all be equal in our intelligence, beauty, health, and the like, it is pretty clear now that as far as our rights to our lives and liberties are concerned, we are indeed equal. That means no one gets to rule someone else, not any other adult, not unless there has been someone who is to be ruled has done something criminal, violated another’s rights in the first place or consent has been given as we give it to our surgeon. But barring this, no one is supposed to rule anyone else. Equal liberty all around, that is the principle of a free society.

So then where does all this government regulation come from? Does our mutual equality disappear simply because a lot of people may wish to intrude on a bunch of others? Does democracy trump our mutual rights to equal liberty? How could it, when democracy itself is based on such rights–that why we all have the right to participate in public affairs, because we all have equal rights and no one is superior to another in the matter of having rights or authority. Self-rule is the name of the game, not a bigger group ruling a smaller one.

So bigger numbers do not justify greater, unequal authority. Nor does expertise. One’s doctor or dentist or butcher or plumber is an expert at something one may know nothing about or only very little but that doesn’t support the doctor’s or dentist’s or butcher’s rule over others who lack their skills. They still require full consent from those they guide, their patients or customers. Consent is central to the way civilized adult people interact. You must gain another’s permission to give him or her orders, to have them comply with your orders. That is the way of a free society.

But this bothers many people who think that we are all beholden to others, especially past generations, and thus we have obligations to fulfill. And it is indeed plausible to hold that many people owe much to their elders, both intimates and strangers. Surely the inventions and creations from past generations have produced enormous benefits to members of the current one and maybe this creates some obligations, duties, that the current population needs to fulfill.

What is not true is that this entitles anyone to enforce those obligations. Adult human beings must come to see that they owe something to others. That’s the origin of contract law. We enter into binding agreements with others. No third party gets to determine these obligations without our consent. And certainly no one gets to force us to comply with obligations we haven’t freely assumed except when we are children and cannot be expected to fend for ourselves.

Well then what about all this government regulation being imposed on innumerable professionals, regulation that a great many haven’t ever been asked to accept let alone given their consent to? Notice, the government regulations are pre-emptive–those being regulated haven’t done anything wrong, so they haven’t deserved the regulation, the impositions, the burdens the regulators meet out. (In the criminal law no one gets to be punished or penalized unless it is shown, in line with due process, that they have done something to deserve punishment or penalties. Why not with government regulation?)

How come the regulators–or rather rulers–get to tell people what to do? Never mind that they haven’t the moral authority to do this, nor some kind of special status–more naturally virtuous than the rest of us, perhaps–that would justify their intrusions into other people’s lives. Never mind that they are all just as capable of making mistakes as are market agents and, indeed, more so because they have power over people which, as Lord Acton noted, tends to corrupt.

So you think free men and women are susceptible to making mistakes? Well, their rulers are far more susceptible to do so, something that is borne out by even a cursory study of human history.

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