Friday, January 18, 2008

The Burning House

I often talk about politics and economics with a co-worker. Although he claims to be a Christian Conservative, his political worldview is entirely rooted in socialist ideology. Every argument he poses against free market solutions, limited government, the Constitution, and so on, rests on the assumptions and interpretations of economics that were advanced by Marx and other socialist theoreticians.

My co-worker often likes to challenge me to provide examples of when, in history, libertarian ideas have ever been implemented by a society, as if the only justifiable ways of organizing society are ones that have been done before. He wants to know that a libertarian society is workable. Of course, when I counter that his model – Statism – is pretty much a proven failure, completely unworkable, and doesn’t hold up to the measuring stick that he insists on using to evaluate my proposals, he changes the subject.

He’ll then move from historical to the present. He will say, "how would you deal with (fill in the blank)?". His favorite example is terrorism. When I point out that the problem he is concerned about is caused by bad government policy, so the obvious thing is to change the policy, he gets all indignant. Ending a meddlesome interventionist foreign policy will reduce (if not eliminate) the threat of terrorism in the future. But to him, he wants to know how to solve the government created problem now. What do we do now to react to the problems we face? In short, he wants to know how I would use government to solve the problem.

But therein lies the rub, showing a key concept that my socialist friend cannot grasp. The solution is not possible via government. To quote one of his favorite politicians, Ronald Reagan, government is the problem, not the solution. But to him, removing government from the issue is being "evasive". To him, all problems, no matter what the root cause, must be solved by central planners in government. Top-down is the only conceivable manner of designing society. If there is a problem, we should design a solution and then impose it on people via the law. He has no understanding how the voluntary market works, and how it creates prosperity and peace, all while solving a variety of social problems.

So, I thought about it some, and came up with this analogy which I emailed to him.

Let’s say that you have a house. You want to build an extension onto it. To do this, you go around the house and dump gasoline all over the place, and then toss on a match. The house goes up in flames. (Oops!) To solve the problem of the fire, you continue to pour gasoline on the fire.

So then you turn to me and say, "My house is on fire. What's your proposal to build my extension?" I point out that the first step is that you have stop pouring gasoline all over the place, so the fire can be put out. Only then can the builders can come in later and work on your extension.

You respond by saying, "But what is your proposal to build my extension? Stop talking about what we already did. If I put you in charge, how will I get my extension?"

We can't build the new wing on your house until you stop spreading the fire.

Likewise, the market can't create peace, stability, and prosperity until you stop government intervention in (fill in the blank) that causes conflict and chaos.

My friend is just too far gone to his socialist religion to realize that there is no government solution to his problems. But his faith in the State is so profound that it is all he is willing to consider. He wants a central plan to create his utopia, and if you can’t give him one, your ideas are beyond the pale of consideration.

Oh, and I never did get a response. I'm not surprised.


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