It has often been pointed out that whilst government spending is seen as a proper way to express compassion we (meaning those of us who believe that government is too big) can not win.
The above was brought home to me, yet again, yesterday. I watched a person being interviewed by a television presenter, and the person was requesting yet more government spending.
A decade ago a new government scheme was set up to pay for medical cover for children from poor families not already covered by Medicaid (the ‘working poor’). As welfare state schemes tend to do, the scheme has greatly grown in expense and yet ‘essential needs’ are not being met and so the person was on television (with the full support of the television interviewer) saying that the budget suggested by President Bush was not enough.
That is right, the wild spending George Bush (a man who gives the impression that he has never come upon a welfare state scheme that he did not like) is being attacked for not spending enough taxpayers money.
The man who was speaking was Republican Governor Perdue, from conservative Georgia, who was in Washington DC (with other State Governors) to ask for yet more taxpayers money. After all Georgia has implemented the scheme ‘aggressively’ (this was assumed to be a good thing to do) and, therefore, was facing a serious financial problem. As the people talked film was shown of a poor little child getting medical care (subtext – if you oppose the scheme you are a monster).
And the interviewer? A presenter for Fox News (the only non leftist television network). If the ever-more-government-spending-on-welfare-state-schemes position wins by default (for there were no arguments) when the people in the conversation are a Republican Governor from a conservative State and a presenter from Fox News then what hope is there of victory, what hope of rolling back government? At present not much.
One can trace the roots of the problem as far back as one likes. Some trace it to the error made by the German Samuel Pufendorf and other scholars, in confusing taxes and government spending with the virtue of charity (as if there could be such a thing as compulsory charity). FA Hayek even traced the problem right back to human nature evolving when humans lived in hunter-gatherer packs, so that there is always a danger of civil society (or the ‘extended order’) breaking down under the pressure of our near-brute instincts – the atavistic instinct for ‘fair shares’ dignified as the doctrine of ‘social justice’.
However, be at that is it may, the belief that government spending = compassion is clearly deeply rooted. Is there anything that we can do?
Well we can argue against ever bigger government and we can try and get these arguments to the public. But many people before us have tried to do this, over the decades, and they have failed to roll back government or even prevent its growth (although we do not know how bad things would be if they had not tried). And we can do all we can to help people in need, but all the efforts of charity (or ‘benevolence’, or the ‘independent sector’ to those who have been taught to think of ‘charity’ as a dirty word), have not convinced most people that ‘helping’ is not a proper role for government.
Perhaps only the bankruptcy of the Welfare States of the modern world will make people think again. It is possible that even bankruptcy will not make people turn against statism, perhaps ‘pack instincts’ will take over totally with total collectivism and the break down of civil society. However, if we keep on arguing as well as can and trying to get our arguments before people as much as we can, then perhaps people will consider the path of freedom, the path of voluntary interaction that is civil society, when social and political bankruptcy finally occurs.