Tag Archives: Social Justice

Unreasonable expectations: why government constantly fails us.

    The extent of government’s ability to act effectively is rather limited. It is not that government as a concept is inherently flawed or unable to function at any level. Instead, it is the expectations of its constituents that are the drivers of its inevitable failure in many of the tasks it endeavors upon.

     For example, government can effectively reduce the opportunity cost of a choice for its citizens, but it cannot cure social problems stemming from the choices people make. An opportunity cost is a concept from economics which basically states that for every task a person engages in there is something else they cannot be doing with their time. For example, if you mow grass for an hour, the opportunity cost of that choice might be an hour writing the great American novel (assuming you are capable of such a accomplishment). Let us estimate that your novel would take 100 hours to produce, then for each hour you mow grass you effectively “pay” 1/100th of the value of your novel. If said novel would net you $500,000 in profits, then your cost to mow grass (outside of fuel and equipment) would be $5,000. So, you would be much better off paying the little kid down the street $25 to mow your grass.

      Now, let’s apply this concept to regulatory government action. I will concede that, from a theoretical standpoint, it is much less costly to society if we “hire” an agency of people to check, for example, the solvency of financial companies. This agency could compile and publish information as to their effectiveness. They can be specialists that understand the industry and have an aptitude in their selected field. This agency would relieve us of the opportunity cost of having to learn the “ins and outs” of finance and researching every company when making any financial choice. Overall productivity rises because people can more easily determine which companies and products are relatively “better” and thus spend more time maximizing their own output based on their individual aptitudes.

     The problem with this is that humans hardly apply things within the constraints of theoretical effectiveness. Where government fails is that people want government to solve societal “problems,” instead of merely making information more accessible. They want government to keep companies from compensating certain employees too much or selling products that they (voters) think are too risky. Of course, they like the return while the products are on the upside; they just deplore the downside risk that affects them on the backend of the transaction.

     Additionally, there is a selection problem where people who wish to be politicians or government officials can often fancy themselves equalizers. Exacting what they deem to be justice from one entity for the “benefit” of the consumers or voters. Whether it is the voters or the employees of agencies driving these irrational expectations of government makes no real difference. Government is simply not up to the task without eliminating the human component of every decision. They cannot control the supply side of these transactions they deem dangerous or too risky, they must also impact the demand side of the equation. In essence, they must attempt to stop people from “hurting themselves.” Human desires and the balancing of risk and safety vary greatly from one person to the next and it is this which causes government to be ineffective. And, be certain, it is America’s risk tolerance mixed with liberty which has enabled us to be as prosperous as we are.

      Government cannot protect people from themselves or eliminate every risk inherent in life. Government can be a conduit of information, but can never (nor should it) eliminate the desire of people to make choices or engage in risk. We benefit much more from the risk tolerance of humans than we suffer from it. If risk aversion was the default human position, humans would have starved long ago in caves; paralyzed from the fear of predators.

       Over time, government becomes a haven for the risk adverse; both in employment and in voting. Those people on both sides of the proverbial aisle are driven by risk aversion and politicians motivate their voters by highlighting risk and danger. If you are on the right, the risk that someone may do something you do not think is “right” engenders the fear that society will suffer because your moral code was deviated from. On the left, if people are not nannied continuously throughout life, they will be unable to find happiness or will inevitably become victims. Incidentally, both situations are premised on adherence to some subjective moral code.

       Essentially, many people vote on the premise that government will not merely be an efficiency enhancer; instead, government will be an enactor of some “justice” where the only thing they can be sure of is they will be the beneficiary and society will somehow be improved because people are constrained in the fashion they know is best. People have often restated the phrase that government is a “necessary evil,” but lack perspective of why this was originally said. Government is a necessary evil because of the principle of the opportunity cost. Anytime we assume government can solve our individual or societal problems, we set it up for failure and us up for disappointment. Not to mention we yield to it the essential liberty that has enabled us to improve the overall human condition through technological and economic progress.

 

Is government absolution?

It has often been said that government is required to help the poor and disabled; however the evidence consistently shows that government’s involvement has not reduced poverty levels. Seeing that government has never (to my knowledge) cured a societal ill like poverty, why then does there remain so much confidence in it for future success? Could it be that support for government welfare programs stems not only from those who directly benefit from being on it, but also as a path to absolution by those who advocate for it?

So, what do I mean by absolution? First, let us discuss the idea that our government has a responsibility to the poor. Milton Friedman wisely pointed out that governments cannot have a responsibility to people…instead, only individuals can have responsibility. We often hear advocates of government welfare say that we are “our brother’s keeper,” a clear reference to the book of Genesis in the Bible; however, the verse is talking about an individual’s (Cain’s) responsibility to his own brother (Abel) and not society’s responsibility to a person or people. This is a blatant misuse of a Bible verse with the intent of misleading people who, by faith, feel an obligation to fulfill Biblical mandates (at least to some extent).

The question then is how does the brother’s keeper example contrast with government welfare and where does the concept of absolution come in? Let us assume that people do feel an innate obligation to help others; which is arguable, but for the sake of this discussion we must accept it generally. What is the easiest way for people to meet that obligation to others? One could work harder and produce more so that they may transfer (via donation) some of that excess production for the consumption of others. Or, one could spend a few minutes every couple of years voting for a group of people who will give money (that is largely not theirs) to others. Both seems to meet the goal of “helping others” yet one of the two options entails significantly less hardship on the individual choosing to vote instead of donate. It is certainly much easier to vote charity to others than it is to actually provide it. Particularly when a good segment of society pays nothing to fund these programs; the estimated percentage of people in America who file tax returns and owe $0 (or less) is 43% (as of 2013).

In the case of this group of people, a vote for welfare is not only costless and potentially beneficial, but also absolves them totally of any further responsibility to be their “brother’s keeper.” In fact, an IRS analysis of the 2012 tax year showed that the most generous states (by percentage of their income donated) were “red states” that voted for Mitt Romney. This implies that those people that believe government should not engage in coerced charity (to as great of an extent) are much more likely to give of their own money while people who see government as a reasonable and righteous source of charity (albeit at the point of a gun, a fact they often ignore) sees little reason to give of their own money when they can instead vote for “charitable” actions.

Therefore, a vote for government welfare represents a much cheaper way (for the voter) to donate largely because others pay the bill. Individuals can then fulfill their sense of obligation from the pockets of others and still gain the sense of giving that usually motivates people to actually give. This leaves people who preach an obligation to the poor and disabled from actually having any responsibility for meeting that obligation personally. Thus, the individuals that choose the voting method over the donating method have effectively been absolved of their responsibility to others. Effectively, those people do not practice what they preach; instead they demand others serve as their brother’s keeper, while they hold the moral high ground through their mere demanding of action by force.  This reminds me of the brilliant words of Ayn Rand who said:

“It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.”

Interestingly, the people most hurt are the ones who do, most significantly, need the help. For the real crime is not that everyone does not have access to “assistance”; instead, the real crime lay in the reality that those who truly cannot do for themselves are left in poverty so as to satiate the majority who wishes to forgo their own personal responsibility for their own monetary gain. Simply put the absolution through government costs the absolved little, while that release from obligations is paid for dearly by those they claim to be helping. This is the danger of idealism rooted in greater good terms; for the actual good is left subjected to the eye of the beholder while the intent of actions is weighted far greater than actual outcomes. I close with the definition of absolution: “the formal release of guilt, obligation, or punishment.”

The Fallacy of Greed

       Greed…what a fun word! It is that invisible cause of all of society’s problems, right? Have an older car or smaller house than your neighbor? Don’t beat yourself up, they are obviously greedy. Textile manufacturing is now (predominantly) overseas? Duh…just a greedy capitalist. Walmart not forking over that mythical thing called a “living wage?” They are blatantly exhibiting their own greed. She has too much; he has too little…all byproducts of American greed, right?

     Effort is good, the old college try they used to say; but don’t you dare actually succeed because clearly you have morphed into just a common greedy piece of trash. Here is an interesting question then: If, in fact, a person who develops a product for which millions wish to pay for is greedy; what do we call a person who is willing to live for nothing off the labors of others? Ah, I remember now, we call them victims of American greed. Instead might I suggest we call them greedy victimizers of Americans; merely a semantic difference, I am sure.

     The convenience of greed lay in its ability to be arbitrarily blamed for anything. Those on the left have made careers playing on peoples’ petty jealousy through use of the word greed. People have justified the taking of others’ property because of greed; however, greed cannot be proven and, perhaps more importantly, cannot be disproven. How does one combat an accusation of greed? They cannot, which is why it is such a powerful tool of the politician to ensure support from those who Bastiat noted “wish to live at the expense of others.”

     Legalized theft and redistribution gains its mandate from this notion of greed, but how do we define greed exactly? If greed is to be defined as the desire and effort to take something from people which is not theirs, then who is greedy? Can we rightfully call Steve Jobs greedy because he created things which many were willing to trade money for? Or would that title be more properly attributed to the 23 year old which, instead of practicing responsibility, decides to live off the welfare system? I would say the latter; our president would likely say the former. A person who makes a living at the point of a gun is, in my estimation, greedy. There is little difference between someone who is able-bodied and living (almost) exclusively off the taxpayer than there is a common gangster. Both prey off of those unable to defend themselves from their oppressors, the only difference is the mobster at least has the courage to do their own dirty work.

Government is Force: The Uncomfortable Truth People Wish to Avoid.

It stands to reason that where there’s sacrifice, there’s someone collecting sacrificial offerings. Where there’s service, there’s someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice, speaks of slaves and masters. And intends to be the master.

—Ayn Rand

     Our society speaks of things like social justice as if it were a victimless activity. As though giving to someone deemed “less fortunate” entails only the act giving without the taking. Where then does this magical manna come from if not from another citizen? Clearly it comes from someone who is rich or simply has what some deem to be “too much,” right? Let’s assume it does, is the moral righteousness of theft based on the size of the victim’s bank account? If that is in fact the case, should not most white collar crimes be considered righteous?  Or, for example, if you carjack a Maserati are you not merely taking what is not deserved by the owner of that car?

       The rich are hardly the only ones who are victims of our entitled society; anyone who falls into some sort of minority can find themselves targets of our burgeoning tyranny of democracy. If the limits on individual rights to property are up for a vote, then where do the limits of the state lay? In a society which justifies activity by a majority (more aptly, plurality) opinion, no limits exist; instead, the law is a shifting tide dictated by mob behavior and “popular” ideas. I can take your money, your property, and (more poignantly accurate) your very life as long as I can convince enough of my fellow citizens to direct the government to forcibly remove those things from you at the point of a gun.

          You say that no one is taking another’s life, but only their money; excess money at that? How is it exactly that we earn money? Time! Time of our life spent producing, thinking, building, growing, and teaching; and by endorsing the government confiscation and redistribution of people’s money we are very much endorsing the taking of people’s lives; one hour at a time. You cannot ask another for $10 without considering that the money you ask for represents a portion of their life spent earning (assuming they have earned that money). Likewise, you cannot empower government to separate them from that same $10 by force without considering that government has taken the time that money represents from them.

      The cold reality that people wish to ignore is that if that person gets paid $10/hr. then your government has exercised your desire to steal that hour from them; forcibly take those minutes, those breaths, and those heartbeats from them as if they rightfully belong to you or someone else. That activity relegates that producer to the role of slave and you take on the role of slave owner. What gives us the right to prey on our fellow citizens? Nothing! Still, we try to justify it with absurd notions of social justice and fairness. Those who are comfortable voting the confiscation of other’s money are no different than the pimp on the street corner preying on their hookers or the mobster running a protection scheme on businesses. Try as we may to justify our actions as assistance or some altruistic heroism; we are merely common thieves who ply our trade at the ballot box because we lack the courage to steal from others in person.