Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

What Would Happen If Government Didn’t Handle That? – Foundation for Economic Education

Posted by M. C. on July 26, 2018

Gary M. Galles

Those who defend liberty are often challenged to supply exhaustive descriptions of what would happen were some aspect of our increasingly government-dictated lives returned to individuals’ voluntary arrangements. What would happen if government didn’t educate our children? If Social Security didn’t provide for retirement? If Medicaid and Medicare didn’t provide health care? If the USDA, FDA, FAA, etc., didn’t ensure our safety? If the EPA didn’t deal with pollution?

Anyone put on the spot with such questions must recognize that they are rhetorical traps. They are used to put an impossible burden of proof on voluntary arrangements, to allow proponents to dodge having to defend against criticisms of coercive policies…

Therefore, the first part of the answer to “What, precisely, would freedom produce?” is “No one knows.” But failing to answer that unanswerable question in no way detracts from the justified confidence that voluntary arrangements will do things better. In fact, why we can’t answer that trick question helps explain why freedom works so well—it allows previously undiscovered beneficial arrangements that serve people more effectively to develop, even though no one may know exactly what will result in advance.

Simply reflect on what freedom has produced in the past. The miracles that freedom has produced, unknown in advance, offer overwhelming testimony for faith in it.

For example, compare the Post Office with any other form of communication. Its snail’s pace changes contrast with advances in digital communication possibilities beyond earlier fantasies. In fact, freedom has produced miracles all around us whose nature we fail to understand, because we forget their genesis and so take them for granted (e.g., few remember the lost “joys” of carbon paper and its purple progeny as a result of digital copying)…

But how do we know freedom will create improvements, when “anything could happen?” First, self-interest—the desire to improve the circumstances we face—means improvements are sought. Second, when people’s rights are protected, the need to get others’ voluntary agreement means no one can force worse results on others, but it leaves room for results to be not only better, but unimaginably better. And as Leonard Read’s famous “I, Pencil,” illustrated, market miracles are everyday occurrences…

The burden of proof should be placed where it belongs—on government and its coercion-backed programs. No politician or bureaucrat in any of the government enterprises that have grown to surround us has ever adequately described all the consequences of any instance of government overriding voluntary arrangements (particularly the adverse unintended consequences) with their dictates.

Promises made with such conviction for new government “solutions” have turned out to be unrealized pipedreams, at best, and sometimes nightmares. And unlike self-ownership and the jointly beneficial market arrangements it allows—the source of uncountable successes—there are no such “success stories” that demonstrate miraculous improvement from the intrusion of government. In fact, the only real examples of government-produced positive miracles—those produced by stringently restricting its reach, as with the “thou shalt nots” of our Constitution’s Bill of Rights—only reinforce a legitimate belief in freedom and corollary distrust of government…

Be seeing you

John Locke

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