One of the things that bothers me about the ever growing governments of the world is that people are losing the ability to even imagine alternatives to the State, to imagine non-governmental solutions to problems, to imagine how to get by without the State. The economic historian Robert Higgs describes the situation as follows:
Familiarity may indeed, as the saying goes, breed contempt, but it also breeds a sort of somnolence. People who have never known anything other than a certain state of affairs ... have a tendency not to notice it at all, to relate it, so to speak, as if they were sleepwalking through it. Such is the situation of modern people in relation to the state. They have always known it, and they take it completely for granted, regarding it as one might regard the weather: whether it brings rain or sunshine, lightning bolts or soothing spring breezes, it is always there, an aspect of nature itself [...]where that "somnolence" is
... the ideological “hypnosis” (as Leo Tolstoy characterized it) that keeps most people from being able to imagine life without the state ...I was considering this inability "to imagine life without the state" recently because of a discussion on an email list of friends from MIT that I'm part of. It started with the following excerpt:
Professor Mazzucato documents the leading role of the government in, for example, “all the technologies which make the iPhone smart,” including the Internet, wireless systems, global positioning, voice activation and touch-screen displays. That is not to detract from Apple’s role, but to put it into context. Without government, the technological revolution that has allowed iProducts to exist would not have happened. [emphasis added]
The implication, though not the explicit wording, is that there can be no major technology innovation without government. Those systems were all (at least partially) developed for defense applications, so perhaps they would have been developed on a different timeline, but it seems impossible to me, given the commercial value of communication that comparable technologies would never have happened without government.
Even more disconcerting to me, was the enthusiastic agreement of my MIT friends with Professor Mazzucato. Here are a couple of the responses from the MIT crowd:
A third comment worried me yet more:
I can’t think of anything good (in the sense of general welfare) that could have happened if it weren’t for government interference.Nothing good without government. He can't imagine even one thing. Ever.
Without the Internet as we know it we might all be dialing into AOL.Here's my (snarky) response to this last one:
Because nobody would've invented anything else? UUCP couldn't've evolved into a P2P network? Cable companies wouldn't've wanted to play and invented cable modem broadband? Phone companies wouldn't've bothered to invent something like DSL? The concepts of URLs and HTML are really so complicated that without the government, nobody could've come up with something else to fill the void?
All that demand there, all that money there, and nobody would've risen to the occasion to fill it, and we'd still be stuck with just dialing into AOL.
That would indeed've been quite a market failure.But more than a market failure, it would be an unbelievable failure of imagination. And I find it an astounding failure of imagination to not be able imagine alternate paths that technology and history could take. We are definitely being transformed from clever foxes to the stupid herd of sheep, in part, because of the ever growing State that is our shepherd. Transformed from thinking individuals to Higgs' entranced zombies.
A third comment worried me yet more:
And here's (part of) my response to that one:Local governments would never reach that height [of sequencing the human genome]. Neither would any corporation ...
The word "height" triggers, in my mind, the example of the Great Pyramid of Giza. Clearly, it couldn't've been built without the full focus of the government at that time. It was probably considered to be extremely important by the rulers of the time. It was the tallest man-made structure in the world for nearly 4 millennia and the world remains amazed by this marvel to this day.
Nobody knows for sure how it was built, but there were clearly a LOT of workers (tens of thousands), who may or may not have been slaves (and "slave" may have had a bit of a fuzzy definition back then). That means a HUGE proportion of the resources of the society were dedicated to building the marvel.
It seems to me to be a clear example of a very successful government project, and one that couldn't possibly have been done any other way.
Is that really the goal and destiny of humanity? To reach new and ever higher heights?
To collectively band together to pour ever more resources into increasingly grand and amazing projects? For those of us, who in the natural order of such a collective are towards the bottom of the metaphorical pyramid, to be happy enough with our lot and support such things?
Perhaps that really is or ought to be the direction of humanity - for the elite to deploy resources as they see fit and for the rest of us to go along and be proud of whatever accomplishments are achieved.
That approach is at least somewhat in conflict with Liberty. There can, of course, be a balance struck between Liberty and collective achievement, but more of one does pretty much mean less of the other.
I am a little bit inspired by the Great Pyramid. I am a little bit inspired by the horrible awe of the results of the Manhattan Project. I am a little bit inspired by going to the moon. I am a little bit inspired by the sequencing of the human genome. And so forth.
But, personally, I'm very much inspired by the concept of Liberty and would happily forego many of those government successes for more Liberty.
I hope that one day we can find a balance between Liberty and collective achievement that makes us all happy and fulfilled enough and enables us to all live in harmony.And beyond Liberty, I hope we can find the balance between collective achievement and imagination since without imagination we are not truly human, in my opinion.