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Can Government Do Anything Well?
Townhall.com ^ | April 11, 2012 | John Stossel

Posted on 04/11/2012 5:48:49 AM PDT by Kaslin

I'm suspicious of superstitions, like astrology or the belief that "green jobs will fix the environment and the economy." I understand the appeal of such beliefs. People crave simple answers and want to believe that some higher power determines our fates.

The most socially destructive superstition of all is the intuitively appealing belief that problems are best solved by government.

Opinion polls suggest that Americans are dissatisfied with government. Yet whenever another crisis hits, the natural human instinct is to say, "Why doesn't the government do something?"

And politicians appear to be problem-solvers. We believe them when they say, "Yes, we can!"

In 2008, when Barack Obama's supporters shouted, "Yes, we can!" they expressed faith in the power of government to solve problems. Some acted as if Obama were a magical politician whose election would end poverty and inequality and bring us to "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

At least now people have come to understand that presidents -- including this president -- can't perform miracles.

In other words: No, they can't! -- which happens to be the title of my new book.

Free people, however, do perform miracles, which is why "No's" subtitle is: "Why Government Fails -- But Individuals Succeed."

Those who believe an elite group of central planners can accomplish more than free people need some economics. I hope my book helps.

People vastly overestimate the ability of central planners to improve on the independent action of diverse individuals. What I've learned watching regulators is that they almost always make things worse. If regulators did nothing, the self-correcting mechanisms of the market would mitigate most problems with more finesse. And less cost.

But people don't get that. People instinctively say, "There ought to be a law."

If Americans keep voting for politicians who want to spend more money and pass more laws, the result will not be a country with fewer problems but a country that is governed by piecemeal socialism. We can debate the meaning of the word "socialism," but there's no doubt that we'd be less prosperous and less free.

Economists tend to focus on the "prosperous" part of that statement. But the "free" part, which sounds vague, is just as important. Individuals and their freedom matter. Objecting to restrictions on individual choice is not just an arbitrary cultural attitude, it's a moral objection. If control over our own lives is diminished -- if we cannot tell the mob, or even just our neighbors, to leave us alone -- something changes in our character.

Every time we call for the government to fix some problem, we accelerate the growth of government. If we do not change the way we think, we will end up socialists by default, even if no one calls us that.

Pity us poor humans. Our brains really weren't designed to do economic reasoning any more than they were designed to do particle physics. We evolved to hunt, seek mates, and keep track of our allies and enemies. Your ancestors must have been pretty good at those activities, or you would not be alive to read this.

Those evolved skills still govern human activities (modernized versions include game-playing, dating, gossiping). We're hardwired to smash foes, turn on the charisma and form political coalitions. We're not wired to reason out how impersonal market forces solve problems. But it's mostly those impersonal forces -- say, the pursuit of profit by some pharmaceutical company -- that give us better lives.

Learning to think in economic terms -- and to resist the pro-central-planning impulse -- is our only hope of rescuing America from a diminished future.

No one can be trusted to manage the economy. I began by criticizing Obama, but Republicans may be little better. Both parties share the fatal conceit of believing that their grandiose plans will solve America's problems. They won't.

But cheer up: Saying that government is not the way to solve problems is not saying that humanity cannot solve its problems. What I've finally learned is this: Despite the obstacles created by governments, voluntary networks of private individuals -- through voluntary exchange -- solve all sorts of challenges.


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Editorial; Government
KEYWORDS:

1 posted on 04/11/2012 5:48:53 AM PDT by Kaslin
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To: Kaslin

Spend other people’s money?


2 posted on 04/11/2012 5:50:46 AM PDT by Third Person
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To: Kaslin

Thge government excels at taking money from honest citizens and giving it to well connected donors.


3 posted on 04/11/2012 5:53:27 AM PDT by freedomfiter2 (Brutal acts of commission and yawning acts of omission both strengthen the hand of the devil.)
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To: Kaslin

The interstate highway system is pretty damned good. I’ve been in lots of countries and this is about as good as it gets, certainly so for such a large country

The military is the best in the world. It is wasteful but the missions and troop safety trump economics

I’m at a loss for number three.


4 posted on 04/11/2012 5:58:05 AM PDT by muir_redwoods (I like Obamacare because Granny signed the will and I need the cash)
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To: Kaslin

The Church is a great example of this. Sure, for a few centuries in some countries the pope was also the supreme political figure, but the Church has succeeded in addressing human problems over the long haul - and most of the time when she did not enjoy political power.

Hospitals, schools and monasteries are great examples of private actors banding together to solve problems.


5 posted on 04/11/2012 5:58:53 AM PDT by Notwithstanding (Christ Jesus Victor, Ruler, Lord and Redeemer!)
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To: Kaslin
And politicians appear to be problem-solvers.

We believe them when they say, "Yes, we can!"

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Every election cycle, we send ~98% of the Congress back in the belief that they will fix the problems they created. They can't and they won't.

When I was a kid, we used to say "why doesn't the government do something about this?" as a joke because we knew that whatever the situation was, individuals were the solution, NOT government.

Unfortunately, what used to be a joke is now a widespread belief. And, everytime the government steps in to "do something", they make a bad situation worse. That's why I am a strong proponent of strict term limits that require us to rotate incompetents out of Congress as quickly as possible and don't allow "public service" to be an exceptionally high paying career choice. It was never intended to be but we have allowed the inmates to control the asylum.

6 posted on 04/11/2012 6:00:11 AM PDT by DustyMoment (Congress - Another name for white collar criminals!!)
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To: Third Person

Liberals always spend other people’s money


7 posted on 04/11/2012 6:02:21 AM PDT by Kaslin (Acronym for OBAMA: One Big Ass Mistake America)
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To: Kaslin

If our current military was under the command of the WW1 or WW2 type of commanders, than I would say that it would definitely be good at waging war. However, due to Clinton and now, Obama’s dismantling of the military and preference given to PC leaders instead of warfighters, its not even that good at that.

Other than that, they suck.


8 posted on 04/11/2012 6:03:30 AM PDT by qaz123
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To: Kaslin

There’s one thing government can do that individuals cannot do better, and that’s killing people.


9 posted on 04/11/2012 6:05:05 AM PDT by wastedyears (Signature for sale.)
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To: wastedyears

Like Obamacare?


10 posted on 04/11/2012 6:06:47 AM PDT by Third Person
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To: Kaslin

The Government Does many things Well:

1) Create war on individual rights(Nazi Germany)
2) Create Economic chaos(Robert Mugumbe)
3) Create a culture of death(Khmer Rouge)
4) Create generational conflict (Mao’s cultural Revolution)
5) Create Mass emigration( Castro’s Cuba)
6) Create a police state( North Korea)
7) Create famine( Ukraine Famine)
8) Create environmental disaster(Soviet Union)
9) Create religious totalitarianism ( Saudi Arabia)
10) Create racial conflict ( Obama’s USA)

sarc/


11 posted on 04/11/2012 6:07:05 AM PDT by Le Chien Rouge
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To: Kaslin
Can a handful of government hacks who could not find employment in the private industry run the economy better than millions of highly motivated entrepreneurs?

12 posted on 04/11/2012 6:09:51 AM PDT by BitWielder1 (Corporate Profits are better than Government Waste)
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To: Kaslin
Good review of Stossel's book in The Washington Times.
13 posted on 04/11/2012 6:11:47 AM PDT by COBOL2Java (FUMR)
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To: Kaslin

Government does absolutely nothing well! It must however, undertake to do the VERY FEW things that cannot legitimately be done by the private sector.


14 posted on 04/11/2012 6:12:38 AM PDT by Bigun ("The most fearsome words in the English language are I'm from the government and I'm here to help!")
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To: Kaslin

If you begin with the presumption that government action will result in the opposite of its stated aim, then you could say expectations are consistently achieved.


15 posted on 04/11/2012 6:13:44 AM PDT by reasonisfaith (Why do you seek the living among the dead? (Luke 24:5))
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To: Third Person

Oh no, not that, I was referring to aiming the military.


16 posted on 04/11/2012 6:14:35 AM PDT by wastedyears (Signature for sale.)
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To: BitWielder1
Can a handful of government hacks who could not find employment in the private industry run the economy better than millions of highly motivated entrepreneurs?

I can barely find employment in the private industry, and I'm certain I could run the economy better than most people in government.

17 posted on 04/11/2012 6:15:55 AM PDT by wastedyears (Signature for sale.)
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To: Third Person

At one time when the US had a War Department we could win wars. Now we can’t even beat a third world country.


18 posted on 04/11/2012 6:18:34 AM PDT by Citizen Tom Paine (An old sailor sends)
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To: wastedyears

Understood, just making a half-joke. :^)


19 posted on 04/11/2012 6:19:06 AM PDT by Third Person
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To: Kaslin

In light of the GSA scandal and other government waste, fraud, and abuse, I would suggest that instead of a millionaires tax that government abolish all public employee unions and apply the dues to deficit reduction.


20 posted on 04/11/2012 6:22:18 AM PDT by OrioleFan (Republicans believe every day is July 4th, Democrats believe every day is April 15th.)
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To: Citizen Tom Paine
"At one time when the US had a War Department we could win wars. Now we can’t even beat a third world country."

Unfortunately the DoD has a conflict of interest. If they end a war, it is likely that there budget will be cut. And that may result in lost jobs and power at the Dod. You can't have that now can you. That same problem exists in every department of the government. If they actually fix a problem, a bigger budget will not be needed.

21 posted on 04/11/2012 6:30:45 AM PDT by RDasher ("El Nino is climate, La Nina is weather")
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To: Kaslin

There is no problem so great, that government cannot make even worse.


22 posted on 04/11/2012 6:31:44 AM PDT by dfwgator (Don't wake up in a roadside ditch. Get rid of Romney.)
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To: muir_redwoods
You beat me to it.

I am making my own list shorter... for now.

Our government is good at keeping the wolf away from the door!

“O” may have plans for eliminating THAT forte as well

23 posted on 04/11/2012 6:40:54 AM PDT by SMARTY ("The man who has no inner-life is a slave to his surroundings. "Henri Frederic Amiel)
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To: Kaslin

Meat inspectors and air traffic controllers.


24 posted on 04/11/2012 7:02:49 AM PDT by crusty old prospector
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To: Kaslin
"Can a handful of government hacks who could not find employment in the private industry run the economy better than millions of highly motivated entrepreneurs?"

Most of the evils of government are committed by the unelected bureaucracy. Unfortunately, nearly all large organizations have entrenched bureaucracies that are inefficient and use their power unwisely (corporations, foundations, religious groups, etc.).

There is a theory that sociopaths are drawn to these kinds of organizations because it gives them control over other people.

25 posted on 04/11/2012 7:47:59 AM PDT by Liberty Wins (Newt --named after Isaac Newton?)
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To: Kaslin
The biggest problem with central planning is it is ALWAYS a year or more behind the environment it is attempting to control.

The second biggest problem with central planning is it never gets unfiltered information - the multiple intermediate levels of planners rewrite everything to make themselves look good. See the recent “editing” of a 9-1-1 phone call for a typical proof of this statement.

To most readers of this blog/article this comes as no surprise - look at all of the management success stories/books that are out there.

Oddly enough the Internet/information age can change this because it empowers the lowest level manager. How? Because now he has immediate access to an information flow in near real time that was impossible 10 years ago at an effective cost.

Taken to its logical end the Internet/information age could make a centralize government was viable as a doodoo bird. A few proofs of this statement include the collapse of the Soviet Union and the DoD’s rapid fielding initiatives.

26 posted on 04/11/2012 8:16:05 AM PDT by Nip (TANSTAAFL and BOHICA)
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To: Kaslin

,,,,, the answer is yes ,,,, they can drive up huge deficits in record time and then increase taxes ,,, not to pay the deficits down but to increase more wasteful spending and they do it very well .


27 posted on 04/11/2012 8:23:48 AM PDT by Lionheartusa1 (-: Socialism is the equal distribution of misery :-)
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To: Kaslin
One only has to look at what has been called "public education" in America for evidence that, "No, government can't. . . ."

"Government's" major "accomplishment" in that arena has been a negative one: government, utilizing all its bureaucracies, unions, universities, and various other hangers-on has successfully censored America's founding ideas from existence in the nation's schools.

A reading of a decades-old report during the Reagan Administration entitled, "A Nation at Risk," reveals that the censorship already had begun to erode and destroy the concepts upon which America's greatness had been birthed and from which it had prospered and become the literal "breadbasket" of the world.

America's earliest citizen advocates for liberty recognized the damage which government is capable of doing when it attempts control of the minds of youth in a nation.

Their concept of education was exposing youth to "light and liberty," which, according to Jefferson, "go together."

Thomas Paine of "Give me liberty, or give me death" fame, made the following observation critical of the education of youth in France. One can imagine what he might say about what is called "education" in America today.

"Thomas Paine on "The Study of God"
Delivered in Paris on January 16, 1797, in a Discourse to the Society of Theophilanthropists" - (Source)

"It has been the error of the schools to teach astronomy, and all the other sciences and subjects of natural philosophy, as accomplishments only; whereas they should be taught theologically, or with reference to the Being who is the author of them: for all the principles of science are of Divine origin. Man cannot make, or invent, or contrive principles. He can only discover them; and he ought to look through the discovery to the Author.

"When we examine an extraordinary piece of machinery, an astonishing pile of architecture, a well executed statue or a highly finished painting where life and action are imitated, and habit only prevents our mistaking a surface of light and shade for cubical solidity, our ideas are naturally led to think of the extensive genius and talents of the artist. When we study the elements of geometry, we think of Euclid. When we speak of gravitation, we think of Newton. How then is it, that when we study the works of God in the creation, we stop short, and do not think of God? It is from the error of the schools in having taught those subjects as accomplishments only, and thereby separated the study of them from the Being who is the author of them. . . ."

"The evil that has resulted from the error of the schools in teaching natural philosophy as an accomplishment only has been that of generating in the pupils a species of atheism. Instead of looking through the works of the creation to the Creator himself, they stop short, and employ the knowledge they acquire to create doubts of His existence. They labor with studied ingenuity to ascribe everything they behold to innate properties of matter; and jump over all the rest, by saying that matter is eternal."

One may agree, or disagree, with Paine, but how might his analysis of the past several decades of education in America be different from this 200+-year-old statement?

America's Founders' Declaration of Independence and Constitution were formed on a foundation of Creator-endowed individual life, liberty, and rights. This was the foundation of education for citizenship in their view.

Removing their concept of the Source of individual liberty from textbooks and schools may have been what might be called government's one successful undertaking in education; but is America a more free and prosperous nation than when young minds could be exposed to such ideas and trusted to make their own decisions?

"The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time: the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them." - Thomas Jefferson

28 posted on 04/11/2012 9:46:17 AM PDT by loveliberty2
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To: Kaslin

1. Pass blame to others.

2. Avoid responsibility for their actions.

3. Nepotism.

4. Rationalization of anything, even if yeaterday the rationalized the opposite view.

5. Confiscating private property.

6. Making law abiding citizens feel like criminals, treating them as such.

7. Expecting great praise just for simply doing their jobs.

8. Screwing with the free market, then blaming the free market for not working (because of their screw-ups).

9. Appearing to always do what is best for citizens, until we find they lined their pockets in a deal, or for some other reason far less noble.

10. Pushing ideas that appeal to people but taking actions that are totally opposite of those ideas. Doublespeak.

11. Wasting money, nothing does it better.


29 posted on 04/11/2012 9:55:21 AM PDT by Secret Agent Man (I'd like to tell you, but then I'd have to kill you.)
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To: Kaslin
Gubbermint does one thing well: It cuts checks. The military is a world class organization at getting the paychecks out. Gubmint built the Interstate Highway System by cutting checks to private sector companies. Damned rare when a welfare, foodstamp or SocSec payment doesn't arrive in your account on time. As for fulfilling Constitutional responsibilities, well, not so much.
30 posted on 04/11/2012 8:29:47 PM PDT by hinckley buzzard
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