Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Illusion That "The Government built It"

In a recently published letter in the New Jersey Star-Ledger, Birchers are back, the writer, referring to the October government shutdown, hammered the Republicans for "holding the economy hostage to achieve their goal of overturning the [Affordable Care Act], which by the way is established U.S. law." He went on to say:

As long as bypassing the Constitution is on the table, why not eliminate other established laws that their predecessors, the John Birch Society, couldn't overturn: Social Security, unemployment, welfare, NASA, federal funding for highways and bridges, civil rights and all those pesky regulations.
Fortunately, our grandparents ignored the small-government types. With the help of government investment, we went to the moon, made investments in technologies that would later lead the world and created a prosperous society where all, and not just the few, prosper.

Bob Verbeek, Leonia 

I left these comments:

"With the help of government investment, we went to the moon, made investments in technologies that would later lead the world and created a prosperous society where all, and not just the few, prosper."

Where does the government get the money it "invests?" From private productive citizens. It's not the politicians who legislate the taxes or the bureaucrats who dole out the proceeds—the government—that create the technologies "that would later lead the world." They merely leach off of private productive citizens, "investing" money as they, rather than those who earned it, see fit. The belief that "the government built it" is an illusion of the two-dimensional mindset that won't envision all of the industrial growth and innovation that would otherwise have taken place—but didn't—had government not seized the money in the first place. Big government apologists always ignore what doesn't get built had private producers been free to keep their money to spend, save, or invest as they would have chosen.

Large-scale government "investment" didn't begin until after WW II. In America’s first 150 years, when the government was mostly restricted to its proper function of protecting individual rights, we saw the advent of railroads, radio, TV, and motion pictures. America went from darkness to the electric light; from the horse and buggy to automobiles and airplanes; from word-of-mouth to the telephone; from an impoverished agrarian economy to a thriving middle class industrial dynamo. America saw enormous advances in agriculture, medicine, and energy. This is just a sampling. Did government funding drive this almost miraculous technological progress? Hardly. With virtually nil government subsidies—and no science funding—the United States overtook Britain by the end of the 19th Century as the richest country in the world.

It's interesting that Verbeek lumps "civil rights" in with his litany of rights-violating government intrusions into citizens' lives. Rights, properly understood, are guarantees to the individual's freedom to act on his own rational judgment and to earn and keep wealth in pursuit of his own purposes. What do all of these government programs like Social Security and regulatory agencies do but violate those rights?

Freedom and individual rights protected by a limited government—free market capitalism unleashed by the Founding principles laid out in the Declaration of Independence—was the liberating force that allowed the common individual to flourish and prosper. It was the old statist systems like feudalism, which capitalism replaced, under which only the few "prospered"—and then only by looting the common man. Notice that as the government relentlessly grows and freedom diminishes, we're talking not of a soaring economy but of a stagnant or shrinking middle class and more people classified as living in poverty. The correlation is impossible for any objective person to miss.

As to the congressional standoff, Bill Verbeek apparently sees "established laws" as akin to commandments from God that even elected officials are forbidden to alter or abolish. I suppose slavery, separate-but-equal, and Jim Crow laws should never have been repealed, either. Such is the quasi-religious zeal with which state supremacists view government. 

Yes, "our grandparents ignored the small-government types," to their shame. We continue to do so at our peril.

Related Reading:

About That "Government Help," Mr. Roumell

Mazzucato's Fantasy: The "Courageous, Entrepreneurial State" 

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