Eric Hoffer was a San Francisco Longshoreman/Philosopher. His masterpiece of the nineteen-fifties, The True Believer, in my opinion is the most insightful analysis of the motives behind mass movements ever expressed. In The True Believer, he solves what has always been a mystery to me: the rationale of Socialists.
If the criterion for successful government IS the highest standard of living for the most people with greater personal freedom for each citizen, free Market Capitalism is the clear winner in modern civilizations. This seems irrefutable to me, and it is irrefutable. So what are Socialists, Social Democrats, Progressives, Communists, and other collectivists thinking?
It’s very simple, Eric Hoffer explains. In the view of Socialists, the above IS NOT the criterion for successful government. As he further elaborates, to a large, and growing segment of the world’s population, the criterions for successful government are: freedom from competition, the opportunity to blend in, to go unnoticed and un-judged by society, to be relieved of the necessity to plan their lives, to be led unthinkingly through a safe, secure, unremarkable existence. Creativity, innovation, industry, invention are unvalued compared to personal security and unanimity. Prosperity, affluence, fame, personal freedom, challenging occupation, all are far down on the list of desirable realities. Equality is everything; even if it means empowering the foolish, enriching the idle, penalizing the industrious; even if it means equally impoverished, and equally powerless.
Now that I have a glimmer of understanding of the liberal/socialist mindset, I find their goals somewhat admirable. After all, a large part of their efforts are intended to support the less fortunate, less gifted; that is altruistic, to be sure. I can appreciate the urge to relegate competition to the world of sports, put aside worries of promotions, advancement, job security, unemployment, the need to conform to society’s notions of a normal lifestyle, avoid having to plan for, work for, and save for medical care, higher education, retirement, funeral expenses. In short, let someone else worry about the necessities of reality, and just enjoy the pleasures of life. The problems with this form of government are that it is contrary to the human nature, evolved over thousands of years, and it is economically illiterate.
The first problem with human nature is that someone has to take the leadership roles, and plan for the necessities of reality. But most self chosen leaders are just as flawed as the rest of us. As these leaders strive to deal with planning our lives for us, mistakes are made; intrusive, ineffective and excessive programs are instigated, and when they fail, additional plans of action are invented and implemented until, finally, the solutions are more burdensome than the issues they are intended to address. In addition, it is human nature for those who choose to be leaders, to protect, enhance, and expand their roles. Bureaucracies, government agencies, departments, once established have a life of their own and are with us forever. The government grows, expands, doubles and redoubles until it is unmanageable, impossible to administer and so expensive that it sucks up all wealth available. If this sounds like the government we are now living under, it’s because we have been drifting into SOCIALISM since the nineteen hundreds, and we are already halfway there. Currently, we call it PROGRESSIVEISM, and it only gets worse from here.
Economic illiteracy stems from the fact that government is not productive, just the opposite. Government is consumptive. Government does not know how to manage, innovate, design, produce, sell, service; in short government is inept at providing the goods and services we all want in our lives. When government is controlling the processes that private enterprises should be doing for us, chaos is the result. The Soviet Union and North Korea are the current bad examples, but over time, there have been many more.
The antithesis to PROGRESSIVE SOCIALISM is not “government by big business” or “government by and for the wealthy”, as liberals would have us believe. The solution to “incompetent, runaway, excessive, wasteful, intrusive, inefficient, bloated government is to dilute government. Our Constitution says that powers not explicitly vested in the Federal Government, are to be the responsibility of the individual States. This stipulation has been consistently, and brazenly ignored for decades.
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.
If the Federal Government were restricted to the Constitution, things would be very different. Hundreds of Federal Departments, Committees, Bureaucracies, Agencies , and Boards would not exist. Most local problems that actually need to be dealt with by government, would be managed by individual States. Many problems would just disappear along with their hapless Federal Bureaucracies. A State Agency that had gone astray, like so many Federal Agencies have, would surely be more susceptible to correction, or dissolution, than one buried in the folds of Federal Bureaucracies. Individuals would begin to understand that it is to their advantage to deal with, and solve personal and local problems on their own, rather than to trust to some government bureaucracy to provide a cost-effective and sensible solution. Private charities would deal more effectively with social welfare problems.
With an overbearing Federal presence removed, citizens would cease to think of State Government as weak and ineffective. There would be more attention paid to the activities and effectiveness of State Government, and a higher quality of leadership would begin to prevail. I would expect that fifty high quality State Governments would cut the waste and invasiveness of government overall in half. For sure, we would have much more freedom and control of our lives. With fifty State Governments searching for better solutions, the best solutions are more likely to be found.
The most important beneficial effect of reduced government might be to our national character. The unambitious would soon find that a comfortable life requires at least a moderate work ethic. The foolish would find fewer activists willing to do battle for shallow, self-serving, politically correct absurdities. The industrious would be motivated because they could keep more of what they earned. The non-political would gain more interest and trust in a State Government in which their vote actually had meaningful effect. Hard work would become fashionable once more. Without the bad example of a Federal Government driven by partisan political corruption, we might regain respect for honesty and integrity.