Do statists expect people to be angels?

Having established that libertarians don’t expect people to be anything but self-interested, we naturally come to the question of whether their accusers can say the same.  The hoary aphorism that “when you point your finger accusingly, three point back at you” comes to mind — or, more appropriately for this blog, “statists are hypocritical motherfuckers”.  When I wrote the other day that

Statists will tell you that the way to avoid coercion is to build an edifice big enough to stop everything else from coercing you, and that either this wonderful edifice will never try to coerce you itself or that it’s your duty (as part of the social contract you somehow don’t recall signing) to permit yourself to be coerced by it.

I was being unwittingly charitable: the whole purpose of the edifice of state is to coerce people.  (Emphasis added.)  What statists will tell you in defence of their coercive edifice is that it’s for your own good.  Hard-line Hobbesians, while otherwise repellent, are at least refreshingly honest in this regard.

So now that we’ve established an edifice of state and given it a monopoly on the aggressive use of violence, we’ve established two classes of people: those within the state, and those ruled by it.  We’re working on the assumption that the latter are sufficiently un-angelic as to require corrective coercion, so to begin with we’d better make sure that they don’t get into a position of power where they could, I dunno, molest teenaged girls at airport checkpoints or stalk their ex-girlfriends through Homeland Security databases or condemn telco engineers to years of torture for no good reason.

On a large scale, however, that’s a relatively small problem.  The larger problem is ensuring that the state uses its powers for good*, rather than producing legislation that ends up hurting people.  For example, we probably don’t want the state to make it illegal to feed the hungry, or to send people to jail for growing vegetables in their front yards.

Let’s dig up some old news and return to the Tennessee fire department that refused to put out a man’s house fire as he hadn’t paid the fire-coverage fee.  This was used as a club against libertarians at the time, mostly by people who hadn’t bothered to read the news story and assumed that the FD in question was a private concern.  As it happens, that wasn’t true: the Obion County FD was government-owned, and whereas a private fire-fighting company like Rural/Metro would jump at the chance to make another sale — with units on-site, no less — the Tennessee firefighters could only answer “Sorry, sir, that’s against regulations” when the unfortunate non-subscriber offered to pay “whatever it would take for firefighters to put out the flames”.

Commenting on the commentary, Arnold Kling pointed out that

the homeowner had the ability to opt out of fire protection. That should not be allowed, if you are a government fundamentalist.

Thus we discover another expectation: that the governed be docile and compliant, like a TSA screener’s date after the Rohypnol kicks in.  Don’t go where the homeless people are to feed them, lest you cause a scene and scare the tourists.  Don’t do unusual things to your front yard, lest you drive down property values.  Don’t forget to renew your fire protection contract, lest your house burn down before the paperwork goes through.

I suspect that none of these laws was passed with malice aforethought: Orlando was thinking of its tourist trade; Oak Park was thinking of its housing market; Obion County was trying to cut costs or something.  (Statism with malice aforethought tends to do far more spectacularly bad things.)  So not only do statists expect the rulers to be angels, they expect them to be prescient angels.  Furthermore, they expect the ruled to be docile and compliant, even in the face of their rulers’ drearily predictable failures to be prescient and angelic.  And this is all supposed to work out because, you know, democracy and stuff.

But apparently it’s libertarians who’re being unrealistic.  Whiskey tango fucktrot, over?


* I must be getting good at this blogging thing: I managed to write that with a straight face.


6 Responses to “Do statists expect people to be angels?”

  1. July 13, 2011 at 20:22

    Statists always need angels to run their schemes, and when these don’t turn up, they move on to the next savior rather than examining why things didn’t work out as they hoped. Every. Single. Time.

    I find that in general there is an absolute dearth of thinking about motivations in statist thought, such as it is, and that second-order effects (regulatory capture, much?) are ignored utterly.

    • July 13, 2011 at 20:39

      I find that in general there is an absolute dearth of thinking about motivations in statist thought, such as it is, and that second-order effects (regulatory capture, much?) are ignored utterly.

      I almost agree: Statists seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the motivations of the ruled (though not necessarily actually testing their guesses about same), but simply assume that the rulers will be Wise and Noble. Unless they’re from the wrong political party, of course, but that never seems to stop anyone.

      “If you give government such-and-such power, your political opponents are going to use it in ways that will horrify you!” seems to be seen as a feature rather than a bug: it lets the statists say “well, our programme would have worked if only the Right People had been in charge!” This is apparently preferable to getting good, if ideologically inconvenient, results in the first place.

  2. 3 perlhaqr
    July 13, 2011 at 20:46

    Not “people”, just our rulers.

  3. July 15, 2011 at 10:16

    Exactly so. I have lost count of how many times, when I have presented a particular historical example of the spectacular failure of a particular government which employed a particular statist system, I’ve been presented with the argument, “Well, yes, but it wasn’t a PURE (insert statist theory) government.” No, it wans’t. And here’s a newsflash for you: YOU AIN’T NEVER GONNA SEE ONE, NEITHER!

    Statist theories are always THEORETICALLY ideal because they presuppose that human beings will react in certain ways to the implementation of those theories. And when human beings DON’T, the reaciton of the statists is to place blame on those who oppose the pet theory. It never occurs to them that the failure of the theory to accurately predict human behavior is a flaw in the theory. “It WOULD work, dammit, if only you people would do as you’re told.” So instead of retooling their theories (or just fucking scrapping them and starting fresh), they try to retool people to conform to them, and we get purges and gulags and cultural revolutions. But them’s the breaks, because the theory, the party, is more important than the people it was supposed to “help”. For the Statist, the means justifies the ends.

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