Sad but true: we need government because we’re dopes.


Not long ago a commenter on an article I wrote called me a statist. I hadn’t been described that way before and it gave me a good deal of food for thought. “Statist” is a very broad term, describing someone who merely believes government should have some degree of control over policy, but some with libertarian leanings use it as a pejorative. They believe in the primacy of individual independence and the reduction of government to minimal powers.

Faith in the power and wisdom of the individual is an awfully appealing attitude. It gives you warm, shiny thoughts about yourself, about America, even about humanity. So why can’t I share it?

Simple: Most people don’t know what’s good for them or for others. So they are better off when a government, even a severely flawed one, provides some guidance as to what to do in many areas of their lives.

A great many people lack either the critical thinking skills to make smart decisions or hold serious opinions (Todd Akin, anyone?), the desire (or incentive) to do the right thing, or both. The world is full of great masses of people who are either morally or intellectually lacking. Exceptions, Daily Cannibal readers for example, may tend to overestimate the capacity of the general public because they project their own rational skills onto the crania of others. This is a mistake.

Importantly in this era of environmental degradation, people’s stupidity or deliberate know-nothingness, combined with the native selfishness that afflicts us all, means they assuredly don’t know what’s good for the world around them – which means for their very own children, along with everyone else’s.

Without melioration by a fairly powerful and more-or-less enlightened collective mechanism, evils and troubles like racism, terror, greed, abuse, waste, and fraud all too often become ascendant in the minds and actions of too many people. The financial crisis of recent years, caused in part by the relaxation of government regulations, is only the most prominent recent example. Others, just to pick almost at random from a bewildering plethora, include mass gun violence abetted by the lapsing of rules against possession of assault weapons, and an ongoing and worsening health crisis caused in part by the body politic’s refusal to get fully behind a system to insure everyone or even allow the government to negotiate lower drug prices.

Alas, the best “collective mechanisms” we have are governments, either Republics like the United States, limited socialist systems like those in some European countries, or even authoritarian capitalist systems like modern China’s.

Making sure government itself behaves rationally and keeps society’s best interests at heart is no easy task, of course. No one’s found the perfect solution, and we may never. But the alternative to statism – unchecked liberty, otherwise known as anarchy – is worse.