Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The End is Near and it's Going to be Awesome by Kevin D. Williamson

I’m not sure where I got the recommendation to read “The End is Near and it’s Going to be Awesome” by Kevin D. Williamson. Maybe it’s another instance of choosing a book by its cover. This one has an awesome cover! Plus the idea of America after the collapse, is a compelling one. I’m not sure there will ever be another America as we know it after a collapse, but one can wonder.

He begins with the understanding for something to evolve and change and adapt, death must occur. Business fail, scientific hypotheses fail, ideas fail, and new and better ones rise up to take their place. But he ends starkly with, “But politics does not die. Politics is the Immortal Corporation.” Therefore, is it even possible for politics to adapt and become more efficient, or does America have to die first?

No, politics cannot evolve. Certainly not in the way business have. It therefore chokes on its own contradictions. All other entities have to figure out how to get “less wrong” over time, and the imminence of their own demise is a powerful motivating factor. “The problem of politics is that it does not know how to get less wrong.... Resistance to innovation is a part of the deep structure of politics. In that, it is like any other monopoly. It never goes out of business.” It is isolated and therefore incapable of learning how to adapt. It cannot be tweaked to account for a changing world. It cannot update itself with regularity as new problems and out-of-date solutions are discovered. In fact, by its very nature, politics tends to become more wrong.

But if government is the only monopoly allowed to operate in our country, what is it a monopoly on? It is a monopoly on force. “Government is the machinery of violence, and political power is the license to operate the machinery.” All violence is not negative. Our armed forces are examples of violence used to protect us, as are police and judicial powers. But when violence is used to harm and coerce, well, we call that criminal action. Unfortunately government uses most of its monopoly on force to commit criminal acts. It coerces us through laws backed by the power of violence to force us to do what politicians deems best. In fact, he emphatically states, “What [the government] is is structurally indistinguishable from organized crime.” Pretty powerful claim! 

But you might claim the government does lots of things that don’t require force. It educates, provides for the indigent, and engages in scientific research. Yet at the end of the day, government can ONLY use force to get to its objectives. Government has no resources except what it takes at the point of gun. We need to ask ourselves if violent means are the best way to get to our desired end, namely a prosperous and happy society. 

So if government is only force, why do we let it get away with so much? Because we believe government has a responsibility to tell us what direction to go. Government tells us the fuels of the future, government tells us what drugs and medical procedures are to be available in the future, government tells us the best way to educate our children in the future. And we believe this is correct because we believe government can be a moralistic force for good. “The concepts of legitimacy and consent are the foundation of the moralistic view of politics, which converts government from a machine for doing things into a directorate for telling us what to do. This happens on the presumption that there is some valid, underlying moral theory behind politics, based on an ethical standard to which we all implicitly consent.” The Social Contract. The problem is that there is no broad-based, inherent morality to which we all agree. There is not one-size-fits-all definition of right and wrong. Therefore, force MUST be used to control the dissidents.

“If government does not exist to provide an ethical foundation for society, then, what is its role, if it has one?” In short, the job of government is the production of what economists call ‘public goods’” Public goods are not simply things that the public wants. They have a specific definition. They are first of all “nonexcludable” meaning that there is no practical to keep people who have not paid for it from using it. (i.e. sidewalks or the military) Public goods must also be such that when an individual uses it, the availability to another individual is not reduced. Television programming, education, and scientific research do NOT fall into these categories. They can be and are produced by the private market. That is, someone can charge for them and therefore exclude who uses them.

Two areas which consume the lion’s share of our federal budget are Social Security and health care. Neither are under the purview of what the government SHOULD be doing, and both will cause our doom. These two programs, along with education, are made worse by the intervention of government. The incentives to do them more efficiently simply are not there. They exist to serve the political establishment, not the citizens. Therefore they serve the politicians very well when it’s time to buy votes, but the sick, elderly and students, not so much.

He then goes on to detail example after example of how the free market is dealing with so many issues the government has usurped in a more efficient and more fair way. There are many, many better ways to do what our politician claim only they, with a gun in hand, can do.

He ends with this, “... as we have seen, whether the question is education, providing for health care, funding pensions, or providing for the poor, this presents us with many opportunities to make the world a much better place -- for everybody.”

I remain skeptical that America will rise like a phoenix from the ashes. I rather think we are too far gone. Americans are too uneducated and too dependent. The fact that we CAN create a much better place, and the fact that we ARE creating much better systems in some areas gives one hope. But the doing of it is another thing. Our behemoth government can put the kibosh on anything it wants, so who’s to say any of those wonderful innovations will survive the death throes of the monster?

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