I like to play a little mind game with my students where at the end of almost every topic we discuss in my U.S. History class I ask them…“now do you guys think that it’s the government’s role to [insert almost anything the federal government has ever done]?” Almost invariably I get a resounding “nooooooooo.” The problem though is that they are eighth graders and obviously just infer from my tone of voice which direction I am leading them. But their answer is none the less true. It is in fact NOT the federal government’s role to do, well, just about anything they do today. In case it’s been awhile since your last history class (I wouldn’t blame you), when I say federal government I mean our President, Departments, and Congress.
Here is the premise of my post today- THE GOVERNMENT IS NOT OUR MOMMIES AND DADDIES
You might think “Duhhh, I am an adult who makes my own decisions every day. We’re a free society, not Communist North Korea!” You would be right- you probably are an adult; sure, you make decisions every day in what most people would perceive to be a free society; and yes, geographically we are not in Korea. What I want to do today is show you, despite common belief, that your “decisions” are not as free as you might think. Furthermore I want to show you how if you were truly free to make your own decisions, in a vast market of other decision makers, everyone would be a lot better off.
For the sake of time I am not going to delve into every example I can think of to explain how the government oversteps its boundaries and negatively affects your life. But I will entertain a few. I think that once you begin to see the truth that the government plays an obtrusive part in almost every decision you make, every day, you will see the snowball begin to roll. Our government, the beastly Leviathan as Hobbes put it, always wants more power and influence.
So, without further ado, allow me to introduce a simple example by which we may expound. You wake up on a weekday and begin to get ready for work. You take a shower, using water that comes from a city-controlled monopolistic supply, of which you really have no other options even if you perceive their service and prices to be to your disliking. We’ll move on. Next you begin making breakfast- maybe it’s cereal, waffles, eggs, whatever. Your cereal and waffles have nutritional information on the side, don’t they? Do you think all companies put nutritional information on the side because they feel like wasting the ink? Of course not, it’s mandated that they do so. Mommy and daddy (see Leviathan) think it best that they go ahead and require your cereal and waffle producers to provide nutritional information, lest you dare seek out that information on your own. Don’t forget about the eggs though. What about them? Well mommy and daddy have a couple of options- if farmers produce too many chickens and eggs for a given time period, the federal government may buy their overstock in order to keep the farmers in business; and/or they may also set a price floor (minimum price) so that consumers, you and me, will pay enough (more than its actually worth) for the product to keep the farmers in business. Another option regarding the eggs- if demand for eggs on the free market is not high enough to keep farmers in business, the government will subsidize (financially assist) the farmers because we HAVE to keep them in business. Both of these options are tax-funded by the way, of which you had no say. (Please see Henry Hazlitt’s thoughts on this idea here, Ch. 13 & 14)
After you eat breakfast you get in your car to go to work. But crap, as soon as you get on the highway (I35, let’s say) there is a huge backup because government-funded road crews are working on the highway. You might say “what’s wrong with that?” The truth is that those crews are employed by local, state, or federal governments for as long as their project is necessary. So…the longer they work, the longer they get paid (by tax dollars, of course). So what is their motivation to complete the project in a timely manner? Are they driven by their kind hearts to hurry and complete the project so you’re not late or inconvenienced? Of course not, they need a job too. And what better job than a government one with little oversight that could last forever if they so choose? But you get past the traffic (finally, although you’re already late; I guess you could have taken tax-funded city transit if you really wanted to…but wait, that’s not always efficient either, is it?). After the traffic though you need gas. You go to 7-11 and become discouraged that gas prices have risen overnight, nearly $4/gallon now. You think “why do the prices fluctuate so much?” Good question. Number one, our country is scared to death to drill on American soil. But more importantly, is it possible that in the places where we are drilling (predominantly in the Middle East) there are local inhabitants or companies or political leaders who really don’t want us there? Let’s not pretend our government has never secured oil rights overseas. Alas, maybe it is so difficult to actually drill, produce, and ship the oil back home that by the time you’re ready to gas up, the oil companies have raised the price to accommodate their difficulty in production. Furthermore several American oil companies retain near exclusive rights to drill in the Middle East. Why is that? Well we’ve said that most countries and territories in the Middle East don’t want us there (see: any news outlet for the last decade). So when our government forces itself (I think I was supposed to say spreads democracy) on other countries then our government has the ability to contract or license whichever American companies they choose. See Crony Capitalism.
So you gassed up and you’re almost to work. You exit the highway and come to a four-way stop. No one’s around…so you roll through it since you’re running late. But a police officer saw it happen and soon writes you a ticket…because it’s a crime to run a stop sign, right? But can there be a crime without a victim? We’re not arresting people for crimes committed against potential victims, are we? Who was the victim when you ran that stop sign? You didn’t hurt anyone or damage anyone’s private property. So who was the victim? Either way, you don’t get a say in it and the policeman has now secured more money for the state coffer. You’re not even to work yet and you’re hopefully already disgusted at the amount of unnecessary government intervention. But mommy and daddy had to make sure you ate the right meal and arrived to work safely.
Yes, I am being sarcastic; but is this scenario not commonplace? How often do these things happen on a daily basis? For most readers, we encounter these forms of government regulation and meddling on a daily basis. I could spend hours explaining how the free market would answer and improve every one of these situations… end municipal monopolies, eliminate the FDA, end government subsidies and price floors, end state-sponsored construction crews, end international meddling for the sake of oil, end nonsensical laws that aggress individual rights, etc.
I challenge readers to stop before any task or decision they do or make throughout the day and consider “How is the government meddling in this? How are they stifling efficiency and the free market? How are they limiting my options and choices?” If you truly begin assessing this throughout each day you will be baffled with the results. Our “free society” may not currently be as free as you think.
~Thanks to Brad Raschke for his assistance in this post with concepts like price floors and fiat currency.