Editors Note: As you read this article, please remember that Mark is talking about ideas, and not people. His use of the term idiocy refers to the definition of utterly senseless or foolish behavior; a stupid or foolish act, statement, etc. Mark is not using it as a pejorative, but rather a descriptor of ideas.
“The kind of man who demands that government enforce his ideas is always the kind whose ideas are idiotic.” – H. L. Mencken (A Mencken Chrestomanthy, p. 622)
In response to H. L. Mencken’s observation, George Mason University economics professor Donald Boudreaux noted:
“Being sensible, sensible ideas seldom must be imposed by force. Sometimes sensible ideas are adopted gradually, as practices with widespread advantages displace less-advantageous practices and become part of customary behavior. Sometimes sensible ideas are adopted consciously and quickly, through the art of persuasion or the rigors of scientific demonstration.
“In contrast, idiotic ideas have nothing going for them. Most people who voluntarily adopt idiotic ideas in their private lives soon abandon them if these ideas hamper their ability to thrive in the real world. The only way to implement an idiotic idea widely and surely is through force…”
The point being made is that government is force, and there is no reason to force a reasonable idea on a free society, as they will rationally adopt the idea on their own. Therefore, government legislation is the sole method for implementing bad ideas.
This is, perhaps, a blanket statement unfairly over-generalized. There is a reasonable place for some government legislation. Yet it rings true as a generality. Congress was given legislative powers to tweak and correct oversights in law. Thus we may establish a solid and perfected protection for our rights. These powers were not intended to be used to solve America’s personal problems.
If an issue significantly impacts the general public, why shouldn’t government be the one to resolve the issue? Wouldn’t it be the quickest and most efficient way to go about it? Quickest, unlikely. Most efficient, no.
When we leave our decisions to politicians, we leave our interests in the hands of those whose interests are not always in line with our own. Rule #1 that we must understand when it comes to politics: politicians will do what’s best for themselves. Politicians are no different from everyone else. They will do what they believe is in their best interest. Often times this is not what’s best for you. Occasionally we elect honest officials who truly hold moral or religious integrity, and feel that selfless service holds the best ultimate benefit for themselves. Obviously this is not the norm. Politicians typically are trying to get re-elected. Why? Because holding power puts them in the best position to get what they want. So they say openly what people want them to say, do openly what people want them to do. But behind closed doors they say and do what is best for themselves. Backroom deals, earmarks, favors, lies, etc. are well known and documented throughout the years.
But more importantly, politicians do not, and cannot, know what’s best for all their constituents. It is what F. A. Hayek called the fatal conceit. They just simply cannot obtain, retain, or sustain the knowledge and information needed to make the correct decisions for the general society. There are far too many variables, too much unpredictability, and too rapid the motions in the trends of a society or economy. We are a society of individual, free-thinking humans, not predictable computers. What we want or need depends entirely on who we are individually.
Kenneth Arrow made this point beautifully:
“The root facts here are the incommensurability and incomplete communicability of human wants and values. George Bernard Shaw long ago observed, ‘Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you. They may have different tastes.’ Social good, as in the determination of a just income distribution, is an abstraction of some kind from the individual values of the members of the society. But this abstraction can only be based on interpersonally observed behavior, as in market purchases or voting, not on the full range of an individual’s feelings. As is by now well known, attempts to form social judgments by aggregating individual expressed preferences always lead to the possibility of paradox. Thus there cannot be a completely consistent meaning to collective rationality.”
In addition, Hayek noted, “All political theories assume, of course, that most individuals are very ignorant. Those who plead for liberty differ from the rest in that they include among the ignorant themselves as well as the wisest.” (The Constitution of Liberty, p. 30)
Politicians may believe themselves wiser than the rest of us. Or perhaps they know they are not, but do not care. But by allowing them decide for us the solutions to complicated issues they cannot possibly fully understand, we leave ourselves to face the unintended consequences of their inevitable mistakes.
Back to the original point, if an idea is good, we will freely choose to adopt the idea for our own lifestyle. It’s amazing how quickly good ideas can sweep the nation, especially with the powerful communication tools we now have. We do not need to be forced into these ideas. Far within the time a politician could write a bill, propose it, obtain the votes in both houses of Congress back and forth, get the bill signed, and then get the bill implemented, the nation could have the idea fully implemented and optimized on their own.
The only time this is not the case is when the idea is, as Mencken said, idiotic, and not beneficial to all, so many choose not to pursue the idea. Thus they must be forced to participate. And when we resort to these tyrannical tactics, freedom is dead, and we are not the America we were designed to be.