Let’s fix some big social problems!
First, let’s get rid of poverty. In 1950, the poverty rate was at 30%. By 1965, it had plummeted to 15%. Then we decided to eliminate poorness forever, and thus began the huge government War on Poverty. Fifty years later, the poverty rate is still stuck at 15%.
That really worked.
Okay, what about education? Over the past forty years we’ve more than doubled spending on public ed, while our kids’ scores have stagnated. Once the number-one country for education, America’s high-school literacy rank is now at 24th place.
Man, are we smart.
Well, how about higher ed? We’ve spent zillions on student loans, so of course colleges and universities have used that windfall to build more lecture halls, hire faculty, plump up sports programs, etc. Now a bachelor’s degree costs as much as a small house, and graduates need thirty years to pay it off. They could instead have spent those decades earning $75 an hour as electricians and plumbers — or gotten into sales, where the sky’s the limit — and no degree needed. Instead of paying interest, they could have earned interest by investing that college money and becoming well off.
No, sorry, everybody has to have a college degree.
Well, then, there’s the War on Drugs, where we’ve gone after drug dealers and users for decades. And it’s worked, right? Sure, it has worked, if by “worked” you mean that the Land of the Free is now the most imprisoned population on Earth, with up to half of all inmates behind bars on drug charges, especially for marijuana use, which we’ve now decided isn’t so bad after all. It’s “worked” if you don’t mind that our civil liberties have been compromised to the point where police departments can confiscate your house, cars, and bank accounts merely on suspicion that you’re involved in the drug trade. (Yes, there is a “due process” clause in the Bill of Rights that’s supposed to prevent that sort of abuse. But tell that to the courts, who keep siding with the police.)
Sure, it “worked” … if you don’t mind that drug use is still rampant.
Okay, but what about racial equality? Haven’t we fixed that? In 1964 Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, which forbade discrimination. Since then, oodles of tax dollars have been spent to narrow the privilege gap between blacks and whites. Yet on a crucial test of success, length of lifespan, the gap still persists forty years later.
Hey, at least we tried.
All right, fine. What about foreign affairs? We control nearly half the world’s military power, and we’ve used it to fix problems all over the planet. Right? Yeah, right. In Afghanistan the Taliban is making a comeback; in Iraq there’s a corrupt government and daily bombings in the streets; in Egypt we’re supporting a military dictatorship; in Israel, despite decades of our efforts, the standoff between Jews and Palestinians is as volatile as ever. Meanwhile Russia invades Ukraine, China is intimidating our allies in Asia, Europe is furious with the U.S. for spying on them, North Korea daily threatens to annihilate South Korea and/or Seattle, Iran is building a bomb to use on Israel and/or Seattle … and south of the border a civil war rages as drug gangs try to supply America’s ravenous appetite for contraband.
I think we’re getting along with Canada, though.
Well, anyway, haven’t we at least stuck it to the fat cats? We’ve regulated them heavily from D.C. and established the world’s highest business-tax rate. That’ll show ‘em! Except, well, a centralized regulatory regime kills off most of their competition — young, eager, up-and-coming entrepreneurs with great new ideas for products and services we could really use — who can’t afford even to enter the marketplace because the fees and restrictions are so great. But corporations can well afford them: for the big guys, regulatory burden is like paying a fee to make their competitors go away. What’s not to like? Then they send their lobbyists to Washington for one-stop shopping as they bribe support legislators’ re-election in exchange for special privileges. So now there are more corrupt billionaires than ever.
That came out well.
But we’ve got to do something! We believe these issues are so important they need laws — and the power to arrest those who resist enforcement — so we’re not about to give up!
Sure, but then we get saddled with government boondoggles that keep growing larger while the problems stagnate or get worse.
Bureaucrats know, if they perform diligently and efficiently, that their budgets and jobs can get cut — “Hey, nice work! We don’t need to spend so much on that project anymore, thanks to you! Here’s a gold watch” — so instead they screw things up … and then complain that we just didn’t give them enough money to do the job properly. We fall for this ruse, year after year. Why? Because we simply can’t give up on these projects! Each one is a burning issue, and there’s got to be a law!
And so: trying to improve things through government intervention, we’ve instead discovered the perfect way to make things worse.
What might make them better? Dare we consider the obvious, to roll back these programs and let free people evolve the solutions instead? Dare we…?
Nah. Leave it to people, and who knows what might happen? With government programs, at least we know what’s going on. Laws are sexy. They’re like big sticks we can use to thrash people who offend us. It feels so good to beat them up! No way we’re gonna let go of that pleasure.
Besides, people are stupid. They need to be controlled. Let’s pass another law. Don’t worry, we’ll get it right eventually.
…Yeah, that should work.
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