I have started a list of the 10 institutions that are ruining the world and how, in spite of their lofty aspirations, they actually end up doing harm. Today we have:
#7 - Government
Seriously? Government? If that's true then why isn't it further up the list, as it affects us all? Read on and all will be revealed.
We are fortunate to live at a time when those of us able to enjoy the advantages of a free society are able to learn from the experiences of history. If we learned nothing else from the twentieth century then it's that the experiment called socialism was a dismal failure. In spite of that fact, we still have ideologues pushing its virtues and telling us that we just need to try again but with a new twist. But I digress.
What is the role of government in a free society? I subscribe to the Milton Friedman position that government should be as small as possible, should enforce law and order, protect property rights, protect society from monopolies and diminish negative "neighbourhood effects" (the negative impact on a wide group by the activities of a small group). Government should also have control over money in order to buffer ups and downs in the market and, obviously, have ownership of national security.
For people to be free, there needs to be a balance between its major institutions in order to protect the monopolisation of power by any one. In our society the major institutions are government, business and the judiciary. The enemy of freedom is coercion. If there's only one shoe store from which to buy shoes then they can charge any price they like and personal freedom of choice cannot be expressed. Likewise, if there's only one political party then personal freedom is limited.
Society is held together primarily by its values. When situations arise that are unable to be dealt with we call on government to establish the rules of the game and we live within the parameters set. We accept this as being how it needs to be but sometimes miss the point that every time government makes a rule we lose a part of our personal freedom. The problem is that those rules are never overturned and so we become more and more constricted such as is happening in Europe where the only function of the European Union seems to be to make rules on how to live. Don't believe me? Check out the following picture of the EU Constitution, the US Constitution and the Iceland Constitution.
Hmmm, you go, as you ponder the nearly 2,000 pages of the EU and 58 pages of the US Constitutions. Why use a few words when whole chapters will do? The EU has about 25% more people than the US so why does it need such a huge document? Because it brings together a large number of people with diverse cultures, I hear you counter. Have you ever been to New York? Miami? Dallas? LA? You couldn't get more diverse groups of people and yet 58 pages is all it takes to hold things together. Of course, there are a million laws that sit underneath the US Constitution but the fact is that they all need to feed back up into it. Imagine how many laws could fit under the EU document? The EU must be the most regulated society of all time.
Laws tend to arise as a result of the efforts of special interest groups, particularly those masquerading as having a social justice agenda. In Australia we have anti-discrimination laws and we all think that's fair enough. However, what is little understood is that discrimination only applies from the majority group to a minority and not vice-versa. Thus, the freedom of the majority is chipped away bit by bit.
Here in Melbourne we recently saw the trial of two pastors from the admittedly bit-strange Catch The Fire Ministries who were charged with insulting Islam under the state's new racial vilification laws. They were found guilty by the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal that first tried the case and spent over four years and close to $100,000 appealing the judgement before successfully having it overturned. Their original crime? Quoting directly from the Koran. That's right. When discussing Islam's position on certain social issues they used direct quotes, which were heard by Muslim activists sent by a discrimination commissar hired from a Muslim lobby group. Why was the law needed in the first place? It wasn't. Before coming into law in 2001, the then chairman of the Equal Opportunity Commission said: “I am not aware of any conclusive evidence that suggests that discrimination is increasing.” Even the discussion paper the Government put out then admitted “documenting (racism’s) extent is difficult”. Where did the law come from? Muslim lobby groups doing what they do all over the Western world, looking for ways to promote themselves as 'victims' in order to extract concessions from their new homes. Has this law been repealed? I'll leave you to figure that out. By ceding power to government to control a non-issue the personal freedom of every person living in Victoria has been reduced.
Government has the ability to control an over-zealous judiciary or a monopolistic business sector. There is no reverse gear on government, though. The Left believes in big government to provide more and more services under the guise of helping those in need. The problem is that taxation is a coercive activity. It can't be avoided (though can be minimised) and force can be used if you fail to pay. Government taking by force from one individual to give to another represents the ultimate coercion. When the size of government gets as big as it is in Europe, for example, you end up in a complete nanny state situation in which you can have three generations of families that have never worked a day in their lives being provided for by the diminishing number of those that do. In Venezuela it will take a military coup to undo the carnage being wrought by Hugo Chavez. Governments will always find a way to spend all of your taxes but programs undertaken by government are always more expensive than the same programs undertaken by business. When people talk about government projects creating employment they miss the point that for every $1 the government spends on job creation the private sector does it for $0.60.
The reason that government is on the list is that the trend is towards larger government, which is more pervasive and intrusive than ever before. Why isn't it up higher on the list? Fortunately, globalisation has meant that business spans international borders in ways that it never used to meaning that government can only do so much to interfere (unless you're Mr Chavez) before the activity becomes damaging to itself thus business is acting as a counterbalance to expansionist government.
Government, and its tendency to grow, makes it into the list at #7 of my 10 Institutions That Ruin The World.
#8 - The Social Justice Movement
#9 - The Peace Movement
#10 - The Intelligent Design Movement, Discovery Institute