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Monday, April 09, 2012

Looters Among Us

The best lies we tell are to ourselves and I believe that nowhere is this more true than the lies we tell ourselves regarding our noble and moral natures. Who doesn't want to look in the mirror and say, "I'm a good person, full of virtue, and deserving of respect and trust?"

Yet we're probably as flawed as the next guy. It's oh-so-easy to see and tally the flaws in those around us, yet much harder to have the faculties of introspection, the will to introspect, and an ego that can withstand a true and total accounting of our own flaws. Seems like a lot of effort and pain for not much gain, so why bother? Much easier just to maintain the delusion that our flaws are few and inconsequential, if they exist at all.

But from this delusion about our own nobility and altruistic nature springs the good intentions which pave the road to hell: "If only I, or people like me, were given the reins of power and could therefore access the right resources, we could solve many of the problems that are currently causing misery and despair. Sure, we'll need a big and powerful government to solve the problems, but if people like me are in charge, we'll be much better off than leaving the nasty free-market to provide for all."

The above quote, while not a real quote, could have easily been uttered by one of my left-leaning friends. They project their nobility, their altruism, and their incorruptibility onto an image of themselves working for the government. They project these attributes onto others in government as well. This provides a significant portion of the basis for their high level of confidence in government to solve problems and for government to out-perform the free-market in most instances.

On the other hand, if I imagine a bunch of people like me running a large and powerful government, I cringe because I'm sure it would be an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.

It's not that I'm so wildly evil (or maybe I am but just tell myself good lies). All else being equal, I'd want to do the best job possible for the country as a whole if I were in government.

The problem is that all else is not equal. I admit that I care more about my family, friends, and communities (real and virtual) than I do about those I don't know. If I can benefit these groups, I do. If I were a government worker (elected or semi-permanent bureaucrat) and imposing minor cost on taxpayers (say maybe a few cents or few dollars each) would benefit those I care about, I wouldn't hesitate. After all, what's a couple of bucks?

The problem is that those few bucks for each of hundreds of millions of tax-paying entities multiplied by millions of government workers like me all doing the same thing would ultimately lead to the collapse of the government. There might be "watchdogs" to reduce this behavior somewhat, but who will watch the watchers?

When I observe current governments (federal, state, and local), I like to estimate whether or not the behavior I see and the associated results seem to be more like what I'd expect if they were run by my noble liberal friends or if they were run by people like me.

Unfortunately, it looks to me like they're mostly run by flawed people like me, and as a result, I think we're in trouble.

What do you think?


erp said...

I'd take my chances with you and others like you who ask themselves these questions.because in the end I think like the founding fathers you'd come to figure out a system of laws that would apply equally to all, including you and your loved ones.

Bret said...

Except that the first thing I'd do is minimize government so that people like me would have the least possible impact. That's why I favor small government, especially at the national level. At the community level, it's less onerous. Why? Because I care more.

Except that if I actually worked for the federal government, I'm pretty sure I'd get sucked in like most others seem to, so unfortunately, we'd still be stuck with ever growing and ever more corrupt government, even if, or perhaps especially if I was part of the government.

I'm not sure I'd vote for me. I'm pretty sure you could do worse, but I don't think I'd succeed at doing what I think, as a non-government employed citizen, ought to be done (shrink the government), so I might as well roll the dice and vote for someone else who'll still do the wrong thing, but there's at least a small chance of success.

Instapundit had a blurb today that the GOP is planning on bringing back earmarks. It's hopeless.

erp said...

That government is best which governs least -- short and sweet, but says it all. Problem as always is defining the terms: what's best and what's least

I didn't see Reynold's post today, but depending on his source, the charge may be bogus -- just another in a long line of lies by the media on the same level as: "when did you stop beating your wife?" Just addressing the question, puts your name in the same sentence as the charge.

That said, I think that Republican leadership with the exception of Bush and a few others (none of whom are seeking the nomination) are craven cowards who keep their heads down and embrace go-along-to-get-along with religious ferver in order to get re-elected and keep their lucrative sincures in place.

Hey Skipper said...

Reading your posts from the top down has just revealed to me that everything I said about CoV is completely redundant.

Hey Skipper said...

Reading your posts from the top down has just revealed to me that everything I said about CoV is completely redundant.

Hey Skipper said...

Reading my last comment is causing a certain white-hot fury with Blogger, since it binned a substantial comment, and duplicated a BTW.

Anonymous said...

The bigger problem I encounter with MAList types is that the very idea that government has costs is inconceivable, which is IMHO even worse that disregarding it because you weight the trade off differently. In the latter case, there might be some limit to what you're willing to trade off, but in the former why ever stop, since it's all pure benefit?

Bret said...

I think that the MALists believe that if they tax the rich more and more, then there really are no costs to them or their wider tribe. So yes, they'll keep expanding government till there aren't any rich or successful people anymore*. To them that's a feature, not a bug.

What they don't realize is that even well before they run out of other people's money, their tax plans will cause serious economic distortions that will cost everybody. The poor bear the brunt of those costs, but MALists don't actually care whether or not the poor are hurt. Indeed, the worse off the poor are, the better their narrative sells.

* the rich, feed the poor
Till there are no rich no more

I'd love to change the world
But I don't know what to do
So I'll leave it up to you...
(From: Ten Years After)

Bret said...

Hey Skipper,

I've no idea what's going on with your comments. I guess with a service like blogger you sort of get what you pay for.

Anonymous said...


I wasn't thinking so much of taxes as other government intervention in the economy or society. something like this for example. The idea that a regulation to solve problem A could have costs, or even more make A worse, is inconceivable. That's why if you object to the regulation you are immediately accused of being indifferent and in fact supporting the existence of A.

Bret said...


You're right about the Left's love for regulation. Even here though, they probably understand the cost to some extent (though greatly underestimating it), they just think it's worth it. You know, safety at all costs.

From the link in your comment above:

"There's only 525600 minutes in a year, so this single level crossing creates the equivalent of more than 10 person-years of dead time, and it does this every year. That's the equivalent of going out and randomly slaughtering ten people."

I've made very similar arguments in the past, but of course it's not true. When stuck in traffic (which happens all the time in California), I either surf the internet, answer emails, text or converse with people, or close my eyes and relax or meditate. Being stuck in traffic is decidedly different than being dead. Nonetheless, you'll no doubt have the opportunity to call me a hypocrite because I'll no doubt use the "waiting is like being dead" argument again in the future. What joy would there be in life if you can't use both sides of the same argument to fit the circumstances? :-)

Anonymous said...


I agree the article exaggerates the cost, but it's clearly not zero. I also disagree that the MAL is underestimating the cost (or presuming it's only a burden to the tribal enemies). I honestly think that does not even occur to them. As another example, consider the "wow wow" comment by Justice Kagan during the POR-care hearings. The plaintiff sets up her up with a very nice trap that depends entirely on Kagan not realizing that government funds have to come from somewhere other than a rainbow. Consider any exchange with our dear Mr. Eagar. Or as I noted the "if you don't support regulations against A, you are supporting A". That only makes sense under the assumption that the regulations are zero cost, not that they are "worth it" or shifted on to undesirables.