I have been called a lot of things, most unrepeatable, but rarely stupid. It seems as though I must be. I have always seen myself as somewhat of a Libertarian. I have questioned the notion of the state knowing best my whole life. When I was getting my Master’s degree this became a somewhat problematic position. I had one professor with whom I would have knock down drag outs with over the unquestionable orthodoxy of the Progressive model of the State. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of the conversation, but would always find frustration in the lack of willingness to concede a point I thought well defended. I knew there were differing ways to look at the world, I had been influenced by the writings of so many, but those seemed to be ignored as possible solutions to the problems at hand. Well, it seems after all these years that it was me and not them. This last few weeks has brought about a flourish of punditry about just how inane everyone of the limited government persuasion actually is. To hear it told Americans “live in a dream world where their success is their own” never acknowledging that we would have nothing without big, bold government central planning. We are intellectual primitives who reject modern economics” in the face of the undisputable wisdom of John Maynard. It seems to defy any possible logic that the middle class does not “flock to progressives, who are supposed to have their interests in mind.” Most offensive of all, the notion that our Ivy League Super Nerd Bureaucrat Betters need to be more sensitive, keeping in mind how the Jocks and Cheerleaders made them feel in High School while they lord over the now dejected failures of the late teen hierarchy. All of these tirades work of the central premise that they are righteously correct in their assumption of the world, their plan is the only possible solution, and those of use that disagree are either uneducated or willfully ignorant to the facts. When your starting position is “you’re just stupid” you are going to have a difficult time convincing anyone to listen to the rest of your argument, especially when there are valid counter-positions they are attempting to shout down.
The need for a huge Keynesian spending spree to get the economy moving is on the front burner of most every Progressive publication and economist. For these people, the orthodox notion of deficit funded stimulus is unquestionable. It is simply the only course of action, and to disagree is mere corporate funded evil shenanigan. That is what we teach in the schools after all. It makes it seem the counter points were developed on the back of a cocktail napkin, while drinking, in some backwoods dive. Last time I looked there were people like von Mises, Hayek and Friedman who disagreed with Keynes on an academic and practical policy level. Not really uneducated corporate dupes. The refrain that we are all just ignorant of the facts and the necessity keeps getting louder as the rest of the world ignores them just the same. Strange that every Industrialized country, International Regulatory body and private ratings agency have all come to the same conclusion that spending and debt must be addressed despite what all the “smart” people are saying. We keep hearing about the danger of repeating 1937, as if everyone else is completely unaware it ever occurred. Is it not possible that they have actually examined the issue and found that these are different circumstances? Maybe they are aware that quite a few things happened in 1937, and simply pointing to the spending cuts as the only cause of that recession is an attempt to reinforce an argument. Could it be that taking little snap shots of history and trying to make a 2+2 equation without addressing how things might be different this time around, does not make for a sound policy? The political ideology, from both side, bleeds through their talking points about the proper economic policy course. Saying “we’re right, and you’re stupid, just do as we say” so that it becomes improper to question methodology or efficacy smacks of autocratic rule.
Many will also take this historical telescope to their grander policy objectives, using it to shout down those who disagree. The favorite is to look at the post-war boom and say “see what we accomplished, the birth of the middle class, the grand infrastructure, the social safety net. Trust in us and government to deliver it all back to you.” My first response is always the same when I see these arguments: Isn’t possible those years were the outlier, and you cannot recreate the incredibly unique conditions that allowed all that to happen? Look at the years 1946 to 1976 and what do you see? In the most general terms you have 20% of the planet with its combined industry and working age population almost completely destroyed and a serious need to rebuild. Another 60% of the planet is thrust into a post-colonial world, with little of what they need to pull their population out of what is essentially an early Iron-Age agrarian society. Who stands alone in this world to provide what everyone needs? The United States, with a huge idle workforce, a rationing starved populace with a 25% savings rate ready to spend and invest, and a massive natural resource base ready to be turned into the things the world needed. The U.S. flourished for thirty years under these conditions, but what ended it, what started to change? In the 1970s you see the wheels come off, the time of stagflation, and the American economy ground to a halt under taxation and regulation, The U.S. was faced with new competition, especially from Japan. What allowed the U.S. to rebound from that situation? Deregulation, started under the Carter administration, begins to make America more competitive, and it continues with more deregulation and structural tax changes under Reagan. For those who would call for a return to the post-war policies I would like to see some explanation of how exactly this country would compete in a global marketplace with 40% unionization and the government constantly spending well over 20% of GDP year after year. What exactly will we produce? Is the object of the exercise to have a European model where half the populace works for the government providing services to the other half? This is not to say that America is over or that it is hopeless, but it is to say standard policy prescriptions will probably not work, and there needs to be a discussion of a new model.
Now, the Libertarian will be lambasted by Republicans and Democrats, but you can tell that both sides are becoming more and more leery of losing some of their market share of the electorate. When it comes to wanting to limit the power and scope of government, the name calling can get pretty nasty. The Progressives will pull out all the stops, reinforcing the idea of the ignorant or the heartless; leaving Grandma on the corner to starve or turning us all over to the corporations, the little 8 year old lads working 23 hours a day in the salt mines. These are all relatively dishonest attempts to short-circuit debate about real problems. There are anarchists out there who wish to do away with the local fire department, some of them call themselves Libertarians, so all Libertarians are crazy lunatics, and should not be allowed to discuss important grown up things like Social Security. The object of the exercise, for most, is not to eliminate a government program or service just because it is provided by government. It is seeing waste, inefficiency or lack of efficacy for a given thing, and questioning the way it is delivered or its general utility. Be it local trash collection, public school, Medicare or Social Security, there are legitimate questions about how well these services are delivered by government, and if it is found that resources are being wasted, why not question the delivery method? To keep things perpetually locked in their traditional form, even if a different and more efficient method has been developed, simply because that is the way it has always been done, seems pretty crazy. We are told this is what we do, it’s the way it has always been done, and you are just ignorant for not excepting it. This is intellectually insulting. Social Security is a promise that was made, we keep hearing that one. The promise was made by people who died before my parents were born, but I am expected to march along, accepting it as the only possible policy, and not allowed to opt out of it (unless, of course I work for the government). I am then expected to tell my children that this is the only “right” way to think and not to question the orthodoxy. There are always calls for greater democracy in our system, yet when segments of the population try to make their voices heard, it is somehow the wrong choice, and they need to be “properly” educated so as not to question the status quo.
While the case is continually made that all of this “small-government” stuff is the result of “astro-turfing” by evil and nefarious mustache twirling corporate super-villains, there are actual people out there who believe this on their own. They are not all ignorant neophytes upset that they are not the cool popular kid on campus anymore. Many are people who have had to try to run businesses under at least three levels of government regulation. Many are people who see the stories about waste and inefficiency on the part of the Federal Government and wonder why it perpetuates. When you tell people that Medicare needs to be fixed because we have no idea how much is flushed away in “fraud, waste and abuse”, it does not inspire a great deal of confidence that government will then be able to solve the problem. If you tell people they must buy health insurance even if they do not want to, for the good of the whole, you are going to get some push back, and it is not because they are silly little people who don’t get the big picture. They get the picture just fine. Many people simply believe that things have gone too far, newer generations find real wisdom in the idea of limiting government power and standing up to say they exist independently of the state, not simply for it's benefit. Just because older generations were willing to cede some things in this regard does not mean that the latter ones are never allowed to revisit the issue. That is the wonderful thing about our system, it can grow and adopt to ever changing circumstances, roll with the flow as it were. Intransigence and near religious devotion to orthodox thinking, even in the face of unique circumstances and a changing world verges on ignorance, which should bring us back full circle to ask: Who is the stupid one here?