First came the Eightfold Path.
And now, the Eight Pillars.
Both lead to enlightenment.
1.) All people are endowed by their Creator with the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We fought a war to regain these rights from our old government, and we created the Constitution to keep our new government from ever taking them away again.
2.) Limited government is a necessary evil required to maintain a civil society. Excessive government is an unnecessary evil that undermines the liberty intrinsic to human dignity.
3.) Equal justice under equal laws must exist for a society to remain unified. Lady Justice is blindfolded for a reason. The law does not exist to serve only the aggrieved and making it do so divides the people under it.
4.) Solutions are best when they are established voluntarily and locally. The federal government is the antithesis of that, as it is coercive and distant.
5.) Life is a series of tradeoffs. Doing one thing will come at the expense of doing something else.
6.) An individual is more likely than bureaucrats to know what is in his own self-interest.
7.) Policies are as useful as the incentives they create, not the good intentions with which they were created.
8.) As observed by Milton Friedman, there are four ways of spending money. From most efficient to least efficient:
a. Spend your own money on yourself.
b. Spend your own money on someone else.
c. Spend someone else’s money on yourself.
d. Spend someone else’s money on someone else (which happens to be how government spends money).
1. Government money is everybody’s money, spent according to the wishes of everyone, on everyone. Since we have a democracy, this is how government works. You still seem to consider the government an isolated entity with its own wishes.
2. And local governments are not mandatory? Are laws issued by local governments less binding? I can agree with the voluntary part, but I can’t say that because the federal government is distant, it is necessarily bad. In the modern age of email and blogs, it is easier than ever to contact things far away.
3. Not necessarily. Decentralization doesn’t always help allocation. Pure decentralization doesn’t work, and pure centralization doesn’t work. Neither Somalia nor North Korea are prosperous nations. Also, you neglect the fact that some markets are natural monopolies/oligopolies. For example, there’s never going to be a competing system of roads in the US, and it is very difficult for someone to establish a competing system of utilities. These markets must be regulated to ensure proper quality.
4. Perhaps true, but if you accept this point, then you accept that the people who do this are irrational, as they know they will (eventually) get stuck with the cost for these programs, yet they support the programs nonetheless. And if people are irrational, there’s no reason entrusting every decision to them will result in a better world. So tenets 3 and 4 contradict. Besides, there are some government programs that you probably don’t mind being dependent on, such as roads, public education, regulated power, etc.
5. Agreed. I know where you’re going with this: government spending never helps the economy. When you take into account that the cost of taking an action (the opportunity cost) is not necessarily constant, this problem drops away. Government could, for example, borrow during recessions to aid the economy, at a time where the funds that the government is borrowing out would not have been used by the private sector, and then pay back the money at a time when the funds are more likely to be used, such as during periods of growth.
6. Agreed with a catch: the people in question have to have the ability to be self-reliant. Throwing kindergartners on to the streets isn’t going to help. Nor is throwing the uneducated on to today’s economy.
7. True, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to regulate the government. While more government power might cause more corruption, that doesn’t mean that the government shouldn’t enlarge if the potential benefits are large enough.
8. If you ascribe to social contract theory, as I do, then rights are truly unlimited when there are no laws to abide by. Laws inherently decrease rights, and do so to increase safety. They are created at the discretion of the ruled in a democracy, such as ours. Failing to abide by laws results in further decreases in rights for law-breakers to prevent law breakers from threatening law abiding citizens. All rights not already forfeited are inalienable to law abiding citizens only.
Thanks for the discussion points. My response:
1. What we have is a democratic republic, not a straight democracy. We elect representatives to make decisions for us. These elected representatives also have self-interest as career politicians. They will often spend money in a way that fulfills a vision or gets them re-elected rather than spend money in the most efficient way possible. Even if the intent of the spending is well-meant, over statistically significant samples, people tend to respond to incentives, and there is no incentive to spend money efficiently. Is that what the people have decided by electing the people they elect? Sure. But it doesn’t change the underlying principle.
2. The argument over the mandatory nature of local law misses the point. The argument is that the most authority should be granted as locally as possible and that voluntary actions are preferable to forced actions. It’s not an argument of mutual exclusivity, but rather an argument over where to lump the most power. And however easy it is to send an email from Washington, DC to Omaha, Nebraska, the local farmers will tend to know more about how to get the highest crop yields than a bureaucrat in DC issuing commands. There’s a reason the Soviet Union consistently had massive shortages in various products in their command economy.
3. You’re conflating arguments about economic centralization and political centralization. The point of this pillar is that freer is better. Regulation of externalities is a legitimate function of government. Regulation of internal business functions and business-to-business dealings outside of externalities starts crossing the line into central economic planning.
4. The pillar actually argues the opposite, that people tend to vote rationally in their self-interest. The incentive is for people in state X to vote for a political representative that will maximize the money that state X gets from the tax revenues collected from all fifty states. They often don’t get stuck directly with the tab (the costs are dispersed and therefore socialized) for the programs they vote for. Medicare pays out three times what each individual has put in. This pillar is about tendencies, not an absolute argument against the existence of government and its legitimate functions.
5. I’m not sure I follow your comment on government spending. The pillar extends past government into all realms of life. The definition of economics is: the allocation of scarce resources that have alternative uses. People’s demands are unlimited and the resources to satisfy those demands are limited. Individuals make decisions regarding trade-offs thus prioritizing. This is the underlying principle upon which a free economy rests.
6. Self-reliance doesn’t determine a person’s response to incentives. If a parent tells a fourth-grader, who loves amusement parks more than video games, that he gets to go to Six Flags if he mows the lawn himself, his incentive is to mow the lawn himself. If the parent says that it doesn’t matter who mows the lawn, the fourth grader might force his younger brother to mow the lawn so the fourth grader can play video games and also get to go to Six Flags.
7. The U.S Constitution was the Founders’ attempt to regulate government. However, a free people unwilling to enforce those regulations will find an ever-growing government accumulating more and more power to itself and ceding more and more of their personal freedom in the process.
8. If you’re saying that everyone has the freedom to pursue their own ends so long as they don’t infringe upon the inalienable rights of others, then we agree.