Friday, October 02, 2009

Asserting utopia as the solution

Paul from the Save the Hilliard Schools blog buys the government versus anarchy false dilemma. Paul's comment is below. But first I have posted an exchange between Milton Friedman and Phil Donahue. Friedman thoroughly destroys the assertion that Paul's benevolent government is anything other than a utopian dream.

Note: I am more and more amazed when folks who know politicians and the political process (including the true inner workings of government) continue to assert a benevolent government as the solution. Such a proposition is one too many rainbows from reality.

The following is from recent Marc Farber's
article over at
Phil Donohue: When you see around the globe the maldistribution of wealth, the desperate plight of millions of people in underdeveloped countries. When you see so few haves and so many have-nots. When you see the greed and the concentration of power. Did you ever have a moment of doubt about capitalism? And whether greed is a good idea to run on?

Milton Friedman: Well first of all tell me, is there some society you know that doesn’t run on greed? You think Russia doesn’t run on greed? You think China doesn’t run on greed? What is greed? Of course none of us are greedy. It’s only the other fella that’s greedy. The world runs on individuals pursuing their separate interests. The greatest achievements of civilization have not come from government bureaus. Einstein didn’t construct his theory under order from a bureaucrat. Henry Ford didn’t revolutionize the automobile industry that way. In the only cases in which the masses have escaped from the kind of grinding poverty that you are talking about, the only cases in recorded history are where they have had capitalism and largely free trade. If you want to know where the masses are worst off, it’s exactly in the kind of societies that depart from that.

So that the record of history is absolutely crystal clear, there is no alternative way, so far discovered, of improving the lot of the ordinary people that can hold a candle to the productive activities that are unleashed by a free enterprise system.

Phil Donohue: Seems to reward not virtue as much as the ability to manipulate the system.

Milton Friedman: And what does reward virtue? You think the Communist commissar rewards virtue? You think a Hitler rewards virtue? Do you think… American presidents reward virtue? Do they choose their appointees on the basis of the virtue of the people appointed or on the basis of political clout? Is it really true that political self-interest is nobler somehow than economic self-interest? You know I think you are taking a lot of things for granted. And just tell me where in the world you find these angels that are going to organize society for us? Well, I don’t even trust you to do that.
Here is Paul's comment left on this post of mine:
My initial comment said that I believe there is a role for a benevolent government in such matters.

We can observe that throughout the ages it has been demonstrated that mankind will readily choose what is good/easy/cheap in the short term with little if any regard for sustainability.

Native American cultures are romanticized for their supposed love of the land. Yet you can go to a place in the Dakotas where the Lakotas repeatedly stampeded whole herds of buffalo off a cliff because it was the most efficient way to kill large numbers of them. The only difference between this act, and grinding a mountain down for the coal is the size and sophistication of the technology available - the motivation is the same.

The rights afforded a landowner cannot be infinite. After all, the landowner has title to property only because the government says he does, and the power of the government can be engaged to enforce those rights granted under law.

We could choose to have a lawless county, where one must individually protect land rights, presumably by force if necessary. There are places in the world where this is true today, like Somalia. If someone wants to take over your house in Mogadishu, there is no government to complain to - you have to fight to keep it, or walk away.

And so I don't really understand those who argue against government, yet demand the protections that if affords.

I certainly fear a government that ceases to be responsive to the people, and our American government is becoming less and less so every hour.

And I am concerned that the way we find our way back to minimal government isn't by unwinding the scale of the government we have now, but rather a revolution that breaks out as a result of our government becoming intolerably intrusive.

Sadly, I see nothing in the natural world that suggests that natural systems self-regulate very well. There is always something gradually drifting out of whack, and the ultimate 'correction' is abrupt and severe.


Paul said...


Our dialog seems to hinge on degree, not absolutes. I advocate less government, not more. I'm on the record as saying that I believe Friedman's voucher approach is a good one. I would take it one step further and give vouchers only to families who can't pay tuition, because I think the act of having to pull out one's checkbook every semester and write a tuition check would make parents much more involved in what goes on in the schools their kids attend.

I have no doubts that serving as a school board member would bring its share of criticism. I've already had friends of many years literally turn their back to me because they believe I mean to bring harm to our school district just because I say levies are about compensation. The teachers' union has declined to endorse me - twice - because of this posture.

I'm not running for school board because I think I am popular, or because I think it will make me popular. Rather I'm doing so because I don't think our community has been represented by someone with my views for a very long time, if ever, and I believe it is my civic duty to volunteer my services. If that is not the will of a plurality of the voters, so be it.

We can't change the system overnight. Isn't it better to steer the ship from the bridge using the rudder than by pushing while in the sea?

Jim Fedako said...


You are not volunteering your services as some homage to your supposed civic duty. You are running to gain an advantage over others -- who, themselves, are trying to gain an advantage over you. Not a very benevolent structure of society.

You do not advocate less government, you advocate different government.

Vouchers are not about less government (a key error of Friedman), they are about a different form of government.

Who is going to set the value of the voucher? Who is going to force folks to pay the taxes that fund vouchers? Who is going to get its nose into every private school that accepts a voucher -- and all schools in the end?

(The answer is government, of course).

Ask Grove City College about the freedoms lost due to government "vouchers" for higher education?

Read the court decision regarding Grove City and the subsequent actions. In the end, Grove City had to disallow all federal dollars -- any federal dollar given directly or indirectly to students -- in order to remain free of the 7,000 separate items - regulations and the frequent modifications issued by the Department.

So we are not degrees away. You advocate government as the solution, I do not.

Well, OK, we are maybe only 165 to 170 degrees from each other.

Paul said...

So tell us Jim - why did you run for school board?

Jim Fedako said...


I'll let another Paul speak for me: When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. 1 Corinthians 13:11

We are supposed to get wiser as we get older.