Culture of Denial   Leave a comment

To address a problem requires the admission of a problem. That’s an AA maxim that has broad application in the world. Rick, my cousin who is a doctor, says you can’t really treat an illness until you’ve diagnosed it.

A second AA maxim is that if you keep doing the same thing over and over again while expecting different results, you’re making yourself crazy.

Image result for image of the regulatory stateStarting about 100 years ago – a little longer in Europe – western democracies bought into the idea that the private sector was bad. Left to its own devices, it would pillage the population – creating a privileged few who could set prices and wages for everyone else. The liberal order – whereby elected officials ran the government with the assistance of workers who left office when they did – made this all the more probable. What was needed, they insisted, was a professional bureaucracy of experts in various fields who were sheltered from political upheaval and would remain in place from one administration to the next. These enlightened nonpartisans could assure the health, safety, economic prosperity and general order of society and leave the private individual free to do whatever they could conceive … so long as what they conceived didn’t interfere with the functioning of the government bureaucracy, of course.

And, for a while, that worked. It took 50 years or so for budgets and work forces to grow to the place where they began to eat the private sector and leave us all frustrated with the size, scope and generally ineffectualness of the government.

Now, populists on both side of the political divide have grown frustrated with the political, economic and cultural status quo, frustrated with the policy choices that have made their lives less prosperous and less secure. The establishment keeps insisting that these people are wrong … just look at all the great government benefits you can apply for. Don’t worry that there are no jobs. You don’t need to even get out of bed in the morning.

And, the establishment wonders why people don’t want to listen to them? Really?

While that might sound like a great life style to a few people raised in a life of leisure, for most people that sounds like torture. There is nothing quite so undignified as an adult whose bills are being paid by someone else and we instinctively know that, which is why the most self-sufficient of us — rural dwellers — rail so loudly against welfare even when they qualify for it … because they don’t want to have their dignity stripped from them. They’d rather work hard for less money than sit on their butts waiting for their government check.

Plus, it turns out that being hard working actually improves our life expectancy.

The populists on both sides of the political divide are demanding change, but after a century of being educated to believe the private sector is bad and the public sector can fix that, they suffer from cognitive dissonance. They want to upend the elitist structure that doesn’t listen to them (noble goal), but then they demand programs that assure that government will continue growing and failing as it grows.

Under the progressive elite, the democratic countries asked too much of government while crowding out civil society and constraining market forces. Now we find ourselves in the inevitable doldrums inherent in a centrally planned society and we demand government “fix” that which it caused.

Unfortunately, while the populists have the right diagnosis, they believe the public school rhetoric that the private sector is bad and must be controlled by the public sector. So, upon finding they have been poisoned, they ask for more poison to counteract its effects.

The solution?

There are no easy answers for uprooting a Siberian pea hedge and, make no mistake, the US government is well-entrenched. To some degree, this can be addressed by us all engaging in rigorous comparative institutional analysis with a willingness to make substantive changes. The world won’t end if we go from 15 bureaucracies to oversee the “environment” that are all Congressionally-created non-Executive branch agencies that receive almost zero oversight to a single agency answerable to the President and cabinet. Yeah, some people will lose their jobs and budgets might be reduced … why is that a problem? I fail to see a downside for ordinary Americans.

Maybe we can look at the labyrinthine mess that is medical-care regulation and see if reducing some of the burden on providers might result in lower prices in the marketplace. No, people probably won’t die if they can buy insurance from Connecticut that is useable in Alaska … kind of like we do with car insurance now. I have better coverage now than I did 30 years ago for slightly less than my premium was in 1981 when Alaska had only two authorized car insurance dealers.

If someone with more time than I have was willing to go through the regulatory state and demand that each and every agency justify its existence and the efficacy of every one of its regulations, we might find that we could shrink government considerably with absolutely no loss of life quality.

So what are we afraid of? Oh, yeah — ourselves and the idea that we are the solutions we’ve been seeking.

 

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