Overlooking the obvious

By Harry Browne

It’s natural for someone to want to improve society – to reduce crime, to shield children from drugs, to make America safer, to improve education or health care.

And it’s understandable that most people turn to government as the way to make those improvements. After all, with government, you don’t have to persuade everyone to rearrange his life to make society better. You just pass a law or start a new government program – and everyone will have to do what the government says.

Why will everyone have to obey?

Because government is force. It has the power to impose by coercion what you or I can do only through persuasion.

The consequences of coercion

But therein lies the rub. Because government is force, what it achieves is never as natural, as lasting, as beneficial as what is achieved through persuasion.

Because government is force, it becomes the tool of those with the most political influence – to be used for their purposes, not yours or mine.

Because government is force, the people whose lives are forcibly rearranged begin immediately to try to undo what the government is trying to accomplish.

Because government is force, those who wield the force are never satisfied to stop using it at the point you think is enough.

Because government is force, it never produces the results promised for it.

Dreams and reality

It’s so easy to imagine government doing something that will improve society. And so …

  • We give government the power to make good drugs legal and bad drugs illegal. But the result has been a drug problem unprecedented in American history.

  • We give government the power to keep the bad people out of America and let the good people in. But the result is an immigration situation that no one likes.

  • We give government the power to reduce crime by outlawing bad guns and permitting good guns, and by keeping guns away from bad people and in the hands of good people. But the result is a crime wave far beyond anything previous generations of Americans had ever known.

  • We give government the power to help good countries around the world and make trouble for bad countries. But the result is the bad countries multiply and the good countries grow to hate us.

The obvious

What’s overlooked is the obvious: Government programs don’t work.

We argue over which programs are constitutional and which aren’t. We argue over who’s best qualified to run the programs. We argue over how big a program should be.

But what’s ignored is the simple truth: The program isn’t going to work – no matter whether it’s constitutional and no matter who runs it. The problem is government. Government programs don’t work.

People have been trying to improve government schools for the past century – and the schools have gotten worse and worse.

People have been trying to use government to rid America of drugs for five decades – and the drug problem has escalated.

People have been enacting federal programs to improve health care since the 1960s – only to see health care become more expensive and harder to obtain.

The answers aren’t …

People turn to government because it seems to be the only way to make dramatic improvements. And in one sense, that’s right. We do have to turn to government – but to get government out of an area, not further in.

The answer to poor education isn’t to start a new government program to distribute school vouchers. That will just turn private schools into clones of government schools.

The answer to poor and expensive health care isn’t another government program to “fix” prescription-drug problems or establish medical-savings accounts. That will just distort the health-care system further.

The answer to gun violence and crime isn’t to pass more laws and supervise people more closely. That will just divert more law-enforcement resources away from violent crime in order to prosecute technical offenses, victimless crimes and what should be private matters.

The answers are …

You can click here to see proposals to make society safer, more prosperous, and more harmonious by reducing government in such areas as the environment, fighting crime, coping with drugs, national defense, promoting family values, the economy and labor relations, or immigration.

Libertarians are often accused of being unrealistic. Supposedly, our principles get in the way of getting elected. But winning an election is of no value if it leads only to more government.

Libertarians don’t get what they want because they don’t yet win important elections. But Republicans and Democrats don’t get what they want because they try to get it through government.

Libertarians may not have figured out how to win yet. But at least they’ve recognized the obvious: Government doesn’t work.