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In his new book, “No, They Can’t: Why Government Fails – But Individuals Succeed,” John Stossel has zeroed in on an interesting theory about what causes people to believe they need government to be involved in so many areas of their lives. He believes that the notion that government can do things better than individuals is “intuitive.”
But what, exactly, is intuition? One dictionary defines it as “Direct perception of truth … independent of any reasoning process.” That definition, however, invites another question: What is “truth”?
A person’s perception of truth can be correct or incorrect. By correct or incorrect, I’m equating truth to reality. If a person’s perception of truth is not reality, his intuition is defective. On the other hand, if a person’s perception of truth is reality, his intuition is sound.
Thus, the kind of intuition John Stossel is talking about is defective intuition – i.e., people who perceive untrue things to be true, without applying reason to their thinking. Such people are said to be “out of touch with reality.”
There’s little doubt that defective intuition is an epidemic in today’s Orwellian world. But it does raise yet another question: What causes people to have faulty intuition?
Hint: The late and legendary Andrew Galambos, whom Harry Browne once dubbed the “unknown libertarian,” is purported to have taught in his private lectures that almost everything everybody believes is wrong.
Many of Galambos’s ideas were, and still are, controversial, but my firsthand experience has convinced me that he was spot on with this particular insight. I never cease to be mystified by how so many people so readily embrace myths – particularly government myths – even when such myths clearly contradict common sense.
Worse, myths tend to grow and become more entrenched over time. To borrow a similar idea from Thomas Jefferson, the natural progress of things is for truth to yield and myths to gain ground.
The reason government myths are so prevalent is that, through gradualism, generations of citizens have become used to government dominating their lives. This acceptance of government intrusiveness as the norm causes people intuitively to believe all kinds of myths about government, politics, ideology and economics, all of which are interconnected.
- Why do so many people intuitively believe that political action is the answer to so many of our problems, when the empirical evidence is that it almost always makes problems worse?
- Why do so many people intuitively believe that electing someone new will change things for the better, when almost all newly elected politicians end up protecting the status quo?
- Why do so many people intuitively equate wealth with evil when, in fact, the two are in no way connected?
- Conversely, why do so many people intuitively equate poverty with moral superiority, when, in fact, the two are in no way connected?
- Why do so many people believe that government should “do something about the economy,” when it has proven, time and again, that its actions almost always make the economy worse?
I happen to believe in Stossel’s premise that individuals can do most everything better than the government. In fact, I would classify it as an axiom.
Do I believe individuals can operate private fire-fighting companies that are superior to government-owned and operated fire departments? Yes!
Do I believe individuals, acting in their own self-interest, can protect the environment better than the government? Yes!
Do I believe that individuals, voting with their dollars, can discourage monopolies more effectively than the government? Yes!
Do I believe individuals can build and operate streets and roads better than the government? Yes!
Based on the ideology, arrogance and incompetence of the criminal class that now controls the levers of power in Washington, I’m not even certain that government can do a better job than individuals when it comes to carrying out its traditional duties of defending our national security, protecting our lives and property, and providing a court system for settling contractual disputes and prosecuting criminal behavior.
Finally, the biggest driver of the defective, intuitive belief that government is all-knowing is our entitlement-centered culture. It’s not just a figure of speech when we repeatedly hear that people are addicted to entitlements.
This addiction to unearned benefits can cause people to panic when government runs out of other people’s money – as we’ve seen in Greece, Portugal, Spain, California, Wisconsin, New Jersey, et al. In this regard, the words of Buddha are as relevant today as they were more than 2,500 years ago: “All unhappiness is caused by attachment.” Have you seen a happy Greek lately?
Buddha said something even more profound when it comes to combating myth-based intuition: “Believe nothing, no matter where you read it, or who said it, no matter if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
Barack Obama, on the other hand, says, “Believe everything I say, no matter what you read or hear to the contrary, or who said or wrote it, no matter if God said it, regardless of whether it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.”
Unfortunately, because Buddha isn’t on television every day, about half the people in America seem to be taking advice from the guy who is – Chairman Obama.
If you ever find yourself saying things like, “There ought to be a law” or “The government needs to reform this or that” or “Congress has to stop the bickering and get something done,” it’s a sure sign that you need to work on your intuition. Start with the writings of the Founding Fathers, then move on to Lysander Spooner, Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek and Ayn Rand … and keep going.
When you reach the point where you think you understand why government fails and individuals succeed, and a mustachioed chap with a familiar face invites you inside, you will undoubtedly have arrived on John Stossel’s doorstep.
And don’t be surprised if he asks you, “What took you so long?”