What do standing in line at the post office and doing the same at the airport security have in common? Both are rare times when average citizens are forced to deal with government directly. Admit it: we all hate it.
It means unpredictable wait times. You aren’t really a customer; you are a bother — at best. Objecting to any aspect of the service is mostly pointless. Step out of line and you are in trouble. You are a subject, and the sullen faces and dreary postures of your fellow citizens in line underscores the point.
The truth is that no one relishes dealing with the government at any level. Where would you rather be: the drivers license bureau or McDonald’s? The school district office or a local bar? A military base or a car plant? The courthouse or the shopping mall? Want to deal with a government cop or a private security guard?
There’s a pattern here. It’s a hugely important one. The relationship between the individual and the state, vs. the same individual and the market, is fundamentally different. We all know this intuitively.
I personally know no one who relishes dealing with government. No one. And yet I know plenty of people who support letting government take over ever more aspects of our lives.
How can we make sense of this paradox? Well, most expansions of government power are pushed without overt public approval, with plenty of deception, and the unfair advantage that government itself has in the political process. In other words, it is not necessary that people actively favor government expansion for government to continue its imperial march through society. It only requires a certain level of passive compliance.
The creation of the Department of Homeland Security — and the TSA as the centerpiece — is a great example. I was talking with Edward Lopez, economics professor at Western Carolina University, about how this came about. We were both around at the time and we compared notes. How did it happen? Government took advantage of public fear and panic following 9-11 to impose what government had always wanted. There was private lobbying too: plenty of contractors have gotten rich, so their lobbying has paid off. The airlines might have played a role too in offloading security liabilities.
Anyone who knew the nature of government could have predicted the results. There have been exploding costs. Individual rights have been violated. Our privacy and constitutional protections have been shredded. Inefficiencies have ballooned. And what for? No credible terrorist threats have really been stopped.
Somehow, at the time this gigantic government apparatus was created, many people imagined that this time would be different, that government would magically do a better job at securing us than the private could or would do. Of course this time is never actually different. The bureaucracy gets created and then people shake their fists at it. But, by then, it is actually too late.
A bureaucracy created never goes away. It gets worse even as it expands and takes on a life of its own. The abuses, wastes, and inefficiencies mount and no one can do anything about it.
What I conclude from this is that the average person lives with a complete mental disconnect when it comes to government. We don’t like dealing with it. We know the truth in our hearts. And yet we keep suspending our incredulity on the belief that government must be doing some wonderful thing somewhere even if we don’t experience it ourselves.
There are people out there who have begun to see the pattern. These people are known as libertarians or liberty lovers or classical liberals or whatever. They are people who know that government is never the best means for social management. It doesn’t matter the issue. Government promises always fall short.
Even worse, government wrecks everything it touches. Wars increase violence. Moral crusades produce opposite results. Cultural planning backfires. Welfare programs break and fail to service. Monetary policy from the Fed yields massive financial distortions. Government security makes us less secure and subjects us to scary regiments of spooks and thugs.
The emergence of the libertarian sensibility is the single most exciting political trend of our time. It is happening at home and abroad, and it is intensifying the world over. No matter where you look these days, you see rebels. Many people are alarmed by this. I’m not. Rebellion is a necessary corrective to encroaching despotism.
The emergent rebellion is apparent in many sectors. When Obama flirted with war against Syria, there was a massive public outcry. The push for legalized pot arises from the same impulse. The outrage against NSA spying reflects it too, as does the push for the repeal restricting the rights of gays to marry. Put it all together and you get a consistently anti-government spirit.
And this is a brief look at the political sector. In other areas of life, we are seeing the rise of massive innovation in the private sector that shows the failure government. Large companies are generating their own power. The global digital money Bitcoin is making new inroads. Local zoning laws and taxi monopolies are being strained by private initiative. And the daily excitement about private communication systems is breaking down the capacity of political elites to control the conversation.
This is precisely why I’ve started Liberty.me. It is designed to track and encourage this new embrace of liberty. It’s not likely that any of us is going to make a dent against government control while acting on our own. But through innovative techniques chronicled and fostered at Liberty.me — which functions as a friendship network, publishing platform, news source, broadcasting system, and discussion board — we can work on solutions that can make government less relevant and even and eventually obsolete.