My Own Pie

Libertarian Thoughts from Renaissance Guy

A Big Shift

with 4 comments

     Something very important has happened, and as near as I can tell it has happened gradually over the last ten years.  I think you could trace its roots much farther back, but the culmination has been very recent.

     The something I am referring to is a shift in the way right-leaning and left-leaning individuals discuss the role of government, particularly the role of the executive branch of government.  Have you noticed the same thing?

     During the 1980’s and 1990’s it was common for conservatives in politics and in the media to argue that government should be limited.  The less government, the better was the approach.  Because liberals, naturally, argued that government was needed to solve all societal and even individual problems. 

     Now, however, it is very common to hear so-called conservatives arguing with liberals about what the government should do, instead of arguing about whether the government should do anything at all. 

     Take the debate about health care.  Many prominent politicians and pundits on the right admitted that the American health care “system” had problems.  They suggested ways that the government could fix those problems–ways that differed from the ways proposed by those on the left.  They simply assumed that the government had some role to play in the matter.

     The assuming is what bothers me the most.  It seems that most people in America assume that the government should do something about societal problems.  Many people now even assume that the government should do something about individual problems, as well.  It seems not to occur to most people that there is another option, which is for the government to do nothing.

     That is why, I believe, we need a third way more than ever.  Members of the general public need to be exposed to another option besides the government’s either doing what the rightists propose or doing what the leftists propose.  People need to hear that it’s possible for the government to simply butt out and to allow people to be free.

     Some of the details of this shift are that people. . .

  1. . . .mistakenly regard the  presidency as a sort of monarchy.  They expect the president to unilaterally solve problems.  They do not see him as the head of a branch of government that is limited by checks and balances imposed by the other two branches.
  2. . . .mistakenly believe that rights are granted by “the government.”  The founders of the United States believed that people naturally had rights and that government leaders must recognize and respect those rights.  In fact, they saw individual rights as imposing limits on the government, not the other way around.
  3. . . .mistakenly ascribe almost total power to the national level of government.  The Tenth Amendment indicates that all powers not already granted to the national government still belong to the states or to the people themselves.  After decades of having the national government dictate state and local policy, because they hold the purse strings, people seem to have accepted this arrangement as normal and even necessary.

     I see this shift most alarmingly in the knee-jerk reaction of people on the street and on television whenever a problem arises.  A natural disaster strikes?  They ask, “What is the government going to do about it?”  Unemployment rises?  They say, “The president had better create more jobs.” 

     I have seen it, sad to say, in individuals I know who used to be suspicious of big government.  It’s a shame and a pity.


Written by ambrosianideas

July 11, 2010 at 5:43 am

4 Responses

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  1. Some good points, but it’s complex. I’m going to end up agreeing with you on quite a bit, but I’ll start with the quibbles. Take the issue of abortion. Is it government intrusion to stop a woman from getting an abortion early in her pregnancy? You can’t answer that question without making assumptions about reality, the nature of life, and the role of law — assumptions which do not reflect proven facts about the world, but rather personal or cultural beliefs about the world. Whose beliefs get chosen to be enforced? Is it the belief of the pro-choice person, or the pro-life? I don’t want to argue abortion because I know from experience that both sides can make very compelling arguments, but since they have different core beliefs/assumptions, they cannot be disproven on their own terms (only on the terms of the other side).

    The same is true of property rights, whether the powerful using their wealth and power to get workers to work at sustenance wages is simply free exchanges between autonomous people, or is it a form of slavery whereby the powerful use their ownership and the legal system to limit the capacity of most of the poor (the number that can rise is always limited). Again, I’m not arguing either side of this now, only to point out that powerful arguments can be made for each.

    The only logically pure way to defend saying “no government” is to be an anarchist — but anarchies almost always fall into chaos and rule by organized criminal syndicates. Once you open the door to these fundamental qualitative debates, then the appropriate time for no government is a difficult issue with no correct “objective” answer, just various political possibilities.

    Yet, at base I think you are right on some of your core points. We’ve become a people not wanting risk, believing we should be kept safe and secure (ten people get sick from bad peanut butter and people are outraged — to me that shows how safe our food is, if that can be an issue!), and expecting the government to take care of us. It goes beyond those beyond those difficult philosophical issues and instead becomes selfishness — I don’t want problems, I don’t want inconveniences. If we were willing to pay the taxes to get all that, that would be one thing, but we’re not. We want more government, but at less cost. That’s like our consumerism of the past decade — we want more stuff, but we don’t have the means. So we borrow.

    So I think you’ve hit on a core problem of our current culture — a lack of personal responsibility for our own choices and destinies — though I don’t think it yields a clear answer of just “say no” to government. But perhaps I’m warping what you meant.

    Scott Erb

    July 13, 2010 at 2:03 am

  2. Oh, one other thing. The issue of “rights” is thorny too. We all have the right to do whatever we want, limited by the consequences of our actions and our capacities. But political and human rights are human assertions based on beliefs or values. Scientifically, we’re just a species which acts as it will, constructing whatever cultures we wish to construct. Biologically, we have no inherent rights, we have to articulate them, define them, and defend them. So are they really natural, or are they human constructs? For different reasons, I think both of us believe that rights as “ought” statements are transcendent — something natural to what we are. But that’s a belief, I don’t see how it can be proven outside of asserting it as a value one simply holds.

    Scott Erb

    July 13, 2010 at 3:54 am

  3. Scott, you said you didn’t want to argue about abortion, but you brought it up. The few pro-life libertarians out there argue that abortion agresses on the life of an unborn person. To ask if it is government intrusion on the woman’s life is equivalent to asking if it is government intrusion to prohibit people from stealing. Can I prove this idea empirically? No.

    It is not slavery to employ people. It is only slavery if you own them. I do not agree with using the law to support big business or wealthy people. Some conservatives take that position. I do not. The law should neither hinder nor favor business. It absolutely should not favor certain businesses or certain industries.

    I never said “no government,” although I can see where you got that idea. I was trying to say that people should at least consider that not every problem can be or should be solved by the government. We should say “no” to the government when saying “yes” agresses against our rights and freedoms.

    Your fourth paragraph gets right to the heart of the matter, and I agree with it completely.

    I will write more about rights later.


    July 13, 2010 at 5:17 am

  4. The slavery issue twists just like the abortion issue. The two month pregnant woman is not actually killing a child, she’s taking something out of her body that might become a child (in that side’s argument). Those who say wage slavery is just like owning people say that the options for most everyone are so limited that they are exploited with their labor enriching those with wealth and power. To say it’s not slavery because they don’t own them would be like a pro-choice person saying to you “it’s not killing because she didn’t kill anything.” But it’s still a life, you’d say! And it’s still exploitation by those with power to constrain others, those claiming wage slavery would say! That’s what differentiates left-libertarians from market libertarians. Market libertarians see power outside of government as somehow more natural and legitimate, even if it is highly concentrated. Left libertarians see big business and big government as two very similar beasts — and usually in bed together.

    Scott Erb

    July 13, 2010 at 5:56 pm

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