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?