Libertarian History/Philosophy

From School Cupcake Bans to Ferguson to Iraq: George Will's Unified Field Theory of Contempt for Govt

|

In his Washington Post column, George Will offers up "The Cupcake Postulate," a unified field theory of out-of-control government:

Washington's response to the menace of school bake sales illustrates progressivism's ratchet: The federal government subsidizes school lunches, so it must control the lunches' contents, which validates regulation of what it calls "competitive foods," such as vending machine snacks. Hence the need to close the bake sale loophole, through which sugary cupcakes might sneak: Foods sold at fundraising bake sales must, with some exceptions, conform to federal standards.

What has this to do with police, from Ferguson, Mo., to your home town, toting marksman rifles, fighting knives, grenade launchers and other combat gear? Swollen government has a shriveled brain: By printing and borrowing money, government avoids thinking about its proper scope and actual competence. So it smears mine-resistant armored vehicles and other military marvels across 435 congressional districts because it can.

And instead of making immigration policy serve the nation's values and workforce needs, government, egged on by conservatives, aspires to emulate East Germany along the Rio Grande, spending scores of billions to militarize a border bristling with hardware bought with previous scores of billions. Much of this is justified by the United States' longest losing "war," the one on drugs. Is it, however, necessary for NASA to have its own SWAT team?…

Contempt for government cannot be hermetically sealed; it seeps into everything. Which is why cupcake regulations have foreign policy consequences. Americans, inundated with evidence that government is becoming dumber and more presumptuous, think it cannot be trusted to decipher foreign problems and apply force intelligently.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Marian Tupy of the excellent HumanProgress site.

Most (if not all) of the examples of stupid government in Will's column have already been discussed and reported on here at Reason.com.

He's right that confidence in government is plummeting mostly because of the simultaneously stupid and overreaching actions of politicians, administrators, and bureaucrats at all levels. Recognizing such a reality may be the beginning of (libertarian) wisdom, but as I've written before, it also carries a very serious potential risk. Counterintuitively, distrust in government may lead to calls for more government. Consider

the 2010 paper "Regulation and Distrust," written by Philippe Aghion, Yann Algan, Pierre Cahuc, and Andrei Shleifer and published in The Quarterly Journal of Economics. Drawing on World Values Survey data from the past several decades for over 50 countries, the authors help explain what they call "one of the central puzzles in research on political beliefs: Why do people in countries with bad governments want more government intervention?"

The authors make a distinction between "high-trust" and "low-trust" countries. In the former, most people have positive feelings about business and government and the general level of regulation is relatively low. In "low-trust countries," the opposite is true and citizens "support government regulation, fully recognizing that such regulation leads to corruption." As an example, they point to differing attitudes toward government-mandated wages in former socialist countries that transitioned to market economies. "Approximately 92 percent of Russians and 82 percent of East Germans favor wage control," they write, naming two low-trust populations. In Scandinavia, Great Britain, and North American countries, where there are higher levels of trust in the public and private sectors, less than half the population does. As a final kicker, Aghion et al. suggest that increased regulation sows yet more distrust, which in turn engenders more regulation….

It turns out that government may be growing not in spite of our confidence in it, but because of our lack of confidence in it to  This self-defeating spiral will only get worse if the United States fails to stem its slide toward being a low-trust country. The first step should entail the government and politicians recognizing that they've got a problem. As with any rehab plan, it would do the government—and the rest of us—well to start small and take it one day at a time.

Read the whole thing.

A major ray of hope—indeed, the beam of sunshine that's warming up this libertarian moment—is really the ways in which people are creating workarounds that simply bypass government whenever possible. Taxi regulations screw consumers? Create Uber. Public-school educators are unresponsive? Create your own curriculum or even your own school. Can't sell unpasteurized milk products? Create a buyers club. Major parties won't listen? Create the Tea Party. And on and on.

As Matt Welch and I discussed at length in The Declaration of Independents, workarounds are a great thing and easier to pull off than ever, but they have serious limitations (witness foreign policy, Ferguson, the drug war, and so much more). It's well past time that we start insisting on a limited, trustworthy government that is actually competent and restrained at the few things that it should be doing. That will not only reduce the desire for more government, it will free up even more time and resources for the free-range experiments in living that will actually make the world better, more interesting, and more prosperous.

Last fall, Matt Welch and I talked with George Will about his "libertarian evolution." Watch now:

NEXT: Brickbat: Let the Punishment Fit the Crime

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Counterintuitively, distrust in government may lead to calls for more government.

    Well, yeah. I mean, the only reason why people with power abuse their power is that they don’t have the power to stop abuse of power. By giving them more power they will have the power to stop abuse of power. Or something.

    1. Welcome to logic, Tony style.

    2. Duh, the only way to stop the nefarious koch brothers from paying off politicians and bureaucrats is to pay them far more than they could be bribed for their services.

      1. That about sums it up.

          1. He’s been suspended indefinitely.

            https://reason.com/blog/2014/08…..nt_4719831

            1. With pay ?

  2. Swollen government has a shriveled brain

    Quotable.

    1. It brings up an analogy I hadn’t thought of before: governments without revenue limits are like Paris Hilton-style heirs.

      1. That’s insulting to Paris Hilton.

  3. Is Will back to being libertarian again? There ought to be some sort of convenient web graph or something for this.

    1. Can’t we just poll millenials or something instead?

    2. Seriously, him and Glenn Reynolds descent into the dark side has been interesting to watch but I bet they see the light again in 2016 when they help elect the evil anarchist Mitt Romney.

      1. Isn’t saying “evil anarchist Mitt Romney” triply redundant?

    3. I’d say that Will has always “leaned” toward libertarianism, though he’s never quite followed the trail to it’s logical conclusion. I think he writes very well, even when I disagree with him.

      I find Pat Buchanan much more frustrating. He can be so right on many things, but when it comes to foreign trade, immigration, and the drug war, wow. Especially in the last year or so.

      Hate to mention Glenn Reynolds’s name because I consider him to be in the minors yet, but he’s so bloody hawkish that his blog is the only one I’ve managed to quit cold turkey.

      1. Buchanan is more right than wrong. At least on immigration he is. Third world immigration to the U.S. is freedom suicide.
        One word: California.

        No popular nightclub ever stayed nice and classy without a doorman.

      2. I’ve followed Will since I was in my early twenties. I recall him writing every other week an opinion piece in Newsweek opposite some forgettable progressive. He was my introduction to conservatism and also to some libertarian concepts. In my mind he’s a positive for the libertarian movement since he helped me personally. I don’t agree with him completely now since I don’t think he’s followed self ownership to it’s rational conclusion, but I’m thankful for his introduction of important liberty concepts to me.

        Forget the litmus tests, Will is a positive for liberty.

      3. …but when it comes to foreign trade, immigration, and the drug war, wow.

        Plus the whole Nazi apologetics and foaming-at-the-mouth anti-semitism.

  4. Why are we meeting Geo. Will in an alley?

    1. To get your fix of outlawed ideology.

    2. The oldest reason there is. Plus he doesn’t charge too much.

  5. “And instead of making immigration policy serve the nation’s values and workforce needs, government, egged on by conservatives, aspires to emulate East Germany along the Rio Grande, spending scores of billions to militarize a border bristling with hardware bought with previous scores of billions. ”

    When did this happen? In the Cold War, 10 year olds didn’t make it from East to West Germany, no matter how much they tried.

    The immigration issue is related to the lack of trust in government. No one expects the government to enforce the laws, so why bother passing new ones.

    1. Google “aspire.”

      1. Maybe you should google it.

        If our government aspires to militarize our border, they sure have a funny way of showing it.
        We have more troops protecting the borders of other countries than our own.

        1. So you’re saying we don’t have people in government who would like to (as in “aspire”) erect a wall along the entire southern border and police it with soldiers?

          1. There might be a few but they are clearly a minority, sadly.

            That would be perhaps the first legitimate use of our military in years.

  6. The first step should entail the government and politicians recognizing that they’ve got a problem.

    Yeah, good luck with *that*. The response will probably be “BIGGER HAMMER!”

    1. Stop looking like a nail then

      1. Probably too late for the likes of us.

        However, check out Harry Browne’s book “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World”.

  7. By printing and borrowing money, government avoids thinking about its proper scope and actual competence.

    Well, yeah. Our Top Men (I’m looking at you, Alan Greenspan) at the Federal Reserve Bank have completely fucked up the true cost of money, so why *not* just keep shoveling it out the door to every supplicant with a tin cup to rattle?

  8. Last year someone in my daughter’s 2nd grade class brought cupcakes for her birthday (for everyone).

    It turns out that cupcakes can be ok for birthday parties, but need to be pre-approved by the principal, but in this case they weren’t. Verdict: You can’t have the cupcakes now. Wait until Friday.

    Cupcakes stayed in the back of the room, on a cabinet where the kids got to stare at them all week.

    On Friday they were too stale to eat. Into the trash they went.

    A valuable lesson for my little girl.

    The teacher, fed up with crap like this and actually targeted for dismissal by the administration, left and now works at a private school. (I posted last year about one of the things they did to try to get rid of her) One good teacher chased out, no doubt replaced by a toady who can’t teach for sh!t.

  9. Man that dude jsut looks corrupt as the day is long.

    http://www.Anon-Surf.tk

    1. Not a big George Will fan, are you?

  10. That will not only reduce the desire for more government, it will free up even more time and resources for the free-range experiments in living that will actually make the world better, more interesting, and more prosperous.

    No.

    We don’t need “free-range experiments in living” to make the world better and more interesting and more prosperous. I already know what everybody needs to do to make the world a better place for everybody, the only problem is that I lack the absolute authority to impose my will on you heathens too stupid to recognize me as your God-King and accept my benevolent dictatorship. And this is why I both desire and need more government – so that you ungrateful bastards will just STFU and do what I tell you, for your own good of course.

    /Every single person who’s not me. And me.

  11. “The authors make a distinction between “high-trust” and “low-trust” countries. In the former, most people have positive feelings about business and government and the general level of regulation is relatively low. In “low-trust countries,” the opposite is true and citizens “support government regulation, fully recognizing that such regulation leads to corruption.”

    This sounds a lot like Philip K. Howard’s thesis in The Death of Common Sense. Over-regulation happens when the people don’t trust government officials to make reasonable judgements, so they take officials’ decision-making ability away by trying to impose regulations for every eventuality.

    1. Is it weird that I read that as “Philip K. Dick” for a second?

  12. This piece describes Italy, where I live, to a T. I’m an American and I am dumbfounded by the way Italians view government. I have not yet met an Italian that doesn’t deeply distrust their government and virtually all believe with almost universal certainty that it is systemically corrupt.

    Yet every single one of these same people believes that the solution is more government. It is mind boggling to me.

    If you want to see some very interesting reactions, come to a place like Italy and get into a political discussion and throw out some libertarian ideas. If you think libertarianism is a tough pill to swallow for the average American, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

    They literally think I am insane if I so much as suggest for example that government corruption is solved by deregulation. It’s as if they are always striving for just a little more government to fix all the fuck-ups that their current government has created.

    1. I think many people – Americans, Italians, and everybody else – fall into this trap because they confuse what they want with what’s possible. They want a purely competent, purely benevolent Big Man to fix all the problems, and they think if we could just get that, we’d be on Easy Street. The fact that such a thing is simply not possible, due to the nature of government, is the big hurdle.

      1. You nailed it. I’ve tried to explain as much but the only reaction I get is best described as the human version of a PC hung up on accessing the hard drive. Activity light is lit but nothing is happening on screen.

        By no means do I think this doesn’t happen in the U.S. but the degree that it happens in Italy is really astounding. Usually when you meet thoughtful, well-educated (not necessarily in the traditional sense) and reasonable people in the U.S., they have at least heard of these concepts. In Italy, however, I have yet to meet a single person that has. I’m talking about some otherwise pretty smart people too.

        It seems like over here you are either some crazy anarchist spray painting the walls or you are one of the various forms of statist and that’s it.

        I’m sure libertarians are out there but I haven’t met any of them.

      2. +1

        One should not expect government to act opposite to it’s nature.

        I recall the fable of the scorpion and the frog. “A scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, “How do I know you won’t sting me?” The scorpion
        says, “Because if I do, I will die too.”

        The frog is satisfied, and they set out, but in midstream,the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp “Why?”

        Replies the drowning scorpion: “Its my nature…”

      3. They want a purely competent, purely benevolent Big Man to fix all the problems,

        What you’re saying is these adults wish they were perpetually 8 years old. Freedom scares the shit out of them because freedom requires personal responsibility. All the Europeans that accept personal responsibility fled Europe before 1920.

      4. “Big Man to fix all the problems”

        Are you talking about people who think the private sector is going to make the world a better place because, you, know, they’ve made this country the shiny, happy place it is now?

        1. So close. Except the part where decentralization, you know, doesn’t have a “big man”, because the market is, you know, not a distinct entity unto itself imposed on the poor, unsuspecting populace, but merely the result of what people do with each other in the absence of coercion. To the extent this country isn’t exactly a shiny, happy place, there’s a strange correlation with government boots being placed upon people’s necks in pursuit of “fixing all the problems”. You know, kinda the policies you support.

        2. Right on AmSoc! These stupid libertardians just can’t accept that the complete lack of government in the US has led us to this distopian Hell!

  13. Once again, there is a huge difference between a wall to keep people out and a wall to keep people in.

  14. “What has this to do with police, from Ferguson, Mo., to your home town, toting marksman rifles, fighting knives, grenade launchers and other combat gear? Swollen government has a shriveled brain: By printing and borrowing money, government avoids thinking about its proper scope and actual competence. So it smears mine-resistant armored vehicles and other military marvels across 435 congressional districts because it can..”

    In other words, funded and made possible by fiat currency?

  15. The problem with a smaller but more competent government is that the left will never accept it. They need to be able to point at failed government programs in order to justify the next wave of intervention. And they need to be able to blame the failure of the previous wave on “sabotage” by those evil Republicans who aren’t even willing to pay for the roads that only a Government can build.

    1. Actually, Republicans ARE evil. Almost as evil as Democrats.

      All good libertarians agree on this.

  16. NASA needs to official rename its SWAT team “X-Com”.

  17. That NASA swat article is comedy gold.

  18. “High-trust, low-trust…”

    Zzzzzz…

    George will is a libertarian? What was his position on the Iraq War again? I see you can support Nixon, the drug war, George bush’s war in Iraq and *still* be a libertarian as long as you spout right-wing bromides against giving kids’ nutritious food in schools and want to get rid of the EPA. It’s a big tent party, you know.

    1. I love a game of No True Scotsman as much as the next guy, but George is a conservative that has drifted in a libertarian direction over the years. I do think that the failures of the W administration opened his eyes somewhat.

    2. You know, they helpfully included an hour-long interview with Will right in the article to keep you from sticking your foot in your mouth. Like any good socialist, you were too lazy to watch it I presume? Or just too stupid to comprehend it?

  19. “It turns out that government may be growing not in spite of our confidence in it, but because of our lack of confidence in it . . . The first step should entail the government and politicians recognizing that they’ve got a problem. ”

    *They* don’t have a problem . . .

  20. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job I’ve had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringing home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link, go? to tech tab for work detail

    ???????????? http://www.jobs700.com

  21. 574 There are many styles derived, which are: the classic models, the youth will never fade RGB models, the Olympic rings models and so on. Each pair of shoes the color is determined by the integrity, and for 574, its color is compared under a trendy young vibrant.
    new balance shoes
    new balance outlet
    In fact, for us, more importantly, through their own personalized dress, give yourself a surprise, a moving, as well as a unique charm of their own, different colors can represent each of us one day is not the same mood. In addition, it is compared to the 996 version will be more movement and more giving a vibrant sense of youth.

  22. I can’t read such a small font.

    If Reason REALLY believed in the scourge of over regulation, the healing power of choice in a market economy, and the rights of citizens to control their own destiny, they’d allow me to control the size of the font/expand the page, and not force me to read the article the way THEY want me to. Not all individuals will be reading this on the same kind of system.

    Seems a bit SOCIALIST to me.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.