The Government is “Doing Something,” the Market is “Doing Nothing”

A thought coalesced in my mind last week while I was watching a video from Stefan Molyneux. Mr. Molyneux emphasizes the use of language in shaping the way we think, which is a concept that has fascinated me ever since I read Nineteen Eighty-Four.

I’ve often found myself in arguments with friends from the left regarding deregulation. It’s never a good situation for me because it’s hard to get out the right answer quickly. I find myself stumbling to cite government failures, but they never seem to provide the slam dunk I’m looking for. People are usually not familiar with the examples I use, and my opponents are armed with common sense sounding arguments like “you wouldn’t play a game without rules.” This degenerates into demagoguery.

A companion argument is the idea that the government needs to “do something.” In other words, we have problem X and we’re proposing legislation Y. What are you proposing? Liberty advocates are said to be “not providing answers.” We’re accused of wanting to do nothing. This was something I saw repeated to Ron Paul over and over during the financial crisis.

The Slam Dunk

I finally realized what’s going on here. I’m conceding the language of the debate to my opponent before I even start. Proponents of the free market are not advocating deregulation at all. We’re advocating actual market regulation (or discipline) as opposed to pretend government regulation. Market discipline is the kind of thing that causes your company to go out of business when it does something wrong. Pretend regulation is what bails out fat cat bankers and CEOs with taxpayer money. Pretend regulation is what causes Bernie Madoff to skate by for years and years when it was obvious to anyone except the porn addicted bureaucrats at the SEC what was going on.

Government regulations are necessarily in conflict with market forces, and they are necessarily biased. It can’t be any other way because they are written by individual human beings who are naturally biased in one way or another. My friends on the left seem to forget this when they argue in favor of fake regulation. They see the government as a democratically elected collective working for the common good, but that idea is patently ludicrous. Unelected lifetime bureaucrats that slip through the revolving door write the vast majority of fake regulations in this country. Many of these people will never be accountable to voters in the slightest way. They will stay in office regardless of who’s in the White House. They write the rules to benefit their friends while hurting everyone else. That’s it and that’s all.

Begging the Question

Clearly, this is not an argument about doing something vs. doing nothing. Even people who hate the free market realize that the market certainly is going to do something: it’s going to put people out of business, cause some people to go bankrupt, and put people out of a job. However, it’s also going to cause some other people to get rich, and it’s going to provide a bunch of new opportunities for profitable investment. It’s going to do many things. If the market was really doing nothing, no one would have to pass laws to fight it!

The issue at hand is whether the government should do something. And there is no question that proponents of the free market think the government should do a great deal. In fact, it should get very busy. It should undertake a gigantic government program like none other in history. Namely, it should shrink. Its influence should diminish. It should cut spending. It should pass a million laws repealing a million laws. It should fire people. It should abolish departments. It should end entitlements. It should cut taxes.

This is not a case of the noble left wanting to heroically do something while us laissez-faire types blithely ignore reality. On the contrary, it’s the bailout environment that’s destroying this country. Rather than let my opponents get by with this trickery of language, it’s time for them to explain how their positions are even remotely rational with what we’ve seen in the past five years.


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