Saturday, January 23, 2016

Hugging You to Death

This title comes from a conversation I had with my son. He was asking me why I was not a fan of the sitting president, and I explained that, to my mind, his policies, even by the measure of his own intentions, did not work, as they failed to produce what he promised. This led me to ask "Is it a good thing to do something with good intentions, but having bad results? Is it a good idea to hug someone to death?" And, having said that, it struck me that is the best characterization of the Democrats' policies. Many of their goals (not all, but many) are unobjectionable, at least as long as you keep to the really big, broad goals.  Everyone would like us all to have more wealth, to have health care, to earn more and have to work less, and so on.The problem is, the methods they use to achieve these measures -- mostly simply decreeing they shall be so -- tend to produce exactly the opposite results.

For example, in terms of "access to health care", congressional records of the Medicare/Medicaid debates show there was a general consensus health care was generally available, the problem was that people suffered the "stigma" of having to ask for free or reduced cost care. So, to avoid that "stigma" the government began to dabble in regulation. And now, fifty-odd years later, we actually have less access to healthcare, and have created more people with inadequate care, than existed in the 60s. In short, we created a problem that did not previously exist, all for fear of some people being embarrassed.  THAT is an example of hugging people to death.

Or, let us look at labor. The 19th century, by and large, did not have unemployment. Some jobs were unsafe, in fact many were, but industry was young, and life in general was less safe. Wages were low in a lot of jobs, and some jobs treated workers pretty poorly, but no worse than they had been in the past, and things were improving. As overall wealth increased, the demand for labor did as well. Wages -- either monetary or at least real* -- increased, and so did safety. Child labor -- which had existed since the dawn of time, just ask any farmer -- was becoming less common, not due to government, but because families could afford to support idle children (a novelty for poorer families throughout history). But, the pace was slow, and there was political capital to be made by riling up workers, and so we got the government involved. And after years of unions and regulations and minimum wage, what do we have? Chronic unemployment. Something unheard of throughout history until the modern age. Granted there have always been poor, but those who were poor and not working were those who could not, those without limbs, or with health problems. The only eras that saw chronic unemployment in history were those, such as the late Roman empire, where fiddling with the money and fixing prices created melt downs. But unlike our age, they usually collapsed of their own weight pretty quickly. It took the modern age to find a way to make unemployment a way of life. THAT too is an example of hugging people to death.

The list can go on, but I think the point is clear. The world is not perfect, and I doubt it ever will be. Change is slow, and improvement takes time. Sometimes it stumbles, and things get a little worse for a time. Sometimes improvements lag. But, in general, allowing people to follow their own desires without any meddling tends to produce as close to the ideal results as is possible in our imperfect world. It doesn't reach perfection. It doesn't get to whatever point it does reach swiftly. And people will suffer along the way. But people suffer along the way under every solution. The question is whether we will make everyone more miserable to make a few suffer a bit less now, or recognize life is not perfect and allow each and every one of those people the same opportunities to make things better. And, history shows us, if we pick the latter, in the process of resolving their own problems, people tend to help their neighbors as well. Not out of kindness -- though sometimes that is the case -- but because the free market route to wealth require fulfilling the wants of others. So, if you would be rich, you have to make a lot of other people as happy as you can. So, without the state messing things up, the simple nature of the free market, funnels our most base instincts into courses of behavior which benefit others. And that cannot help but make things better. And it does it, not by fancy rules, or difficult regulations, but simply by protecting individual rights to life, liberty and property. Once those are protected, the state can step back, and the rest will, sooner or later, work itself out.

Or we can adopt the alternate solution, and try to resolve, in detail, each and every problem that arises, pile answer on answer, rule on rule, regulation on regulation. Try to balance the interest of every party, manipulate each solution to produce an optimal outcome. In the end building a massive mountain of laws, with an army of regulators, enforcing a mass of contradictory rules, with each individual fighting to make sure his interests are not stomped upon. In short, we can hug everyone to death.


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*  The mid to late 1800s saw a period of falling monetary wages, but with an even greater rise in the purchasing power of gold, meaning, while nominal wages were falling, real wages were actually rising. It was basically the opposite of our ordinary inflationary model, the one we are so used to, where our money wages go up impressively, but inflation means that, in truth, our real wages stay largely the same or even drop.

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POSTSCRIPT

I don't mean to suggest the Democrats are alone in their foolishness. Many Republicans would adopt their own version of hugging others to death. And others, to prove they are tough and strong would adopt policies which are just as destructive and harmful. And some would sacrifice necessary rights in the name of morality. Or try to deal with pet issues by making exception which open the door to all of these ills. Both parties, unfortunately, seem to have their problems. Then again, I am hardly a fan of Libertarians either, both because imposing freedom from above is a nutty policy (See "Why I Am Not A Libertarian") and because many have adopted a lunatic mix of isolationism, liberalism, anarchism and libertarianism that is clearly unworkable, yet oddly supported by increasing numbers. (See "The State of Nature and Man's Rights", "Learning From Crows" and "Societal Evolution".)

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