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Ignorance Is Statist Bliss

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The more things change, the more they stay the same.

I was with some friends (in the Delaware Libertarian Party) who were running an Operation Politically Homeless table during Newark Community Day in Delaware recently. An OPH consists of having people take The World’s Smallest Political Quiz, then plotting their position on the Nolan Chart.

It’s been years since I manned such a table and I went just to hang out for a while. Watching and listening brought back memories. It showed me that nothing has really changed since 1996, when I last worked the table. The names of politicians and their bills might change and the enemy of the day certainly changes, but people who believe in government remain the same. Those who believe in little to no government also remain the same.

One person who stopped by said it’s wrong to compare the federal government’s keeping a budget with a household’s doing the same.

“You can’t do that. That’s ridiculous. You can’t compare the two,” he said, while looking at us as if we were telling him we had just had breakfast with Elvis.

In one way, though, he was right about not being able to compare the government’s budget with that of a family. Families can’t arbitrarily take money from other people or borrow money using someone else’s work as collateral to pay its bills. Government does exactly those things through taxation and raising its own debt limit.

That visitor to the table — and others like him — can’t see that. They see government as something special, somehow anointed to do whatever it wants and with the omniscience and ability to fix all of society’s ills. They refuse to see when their guys — Democratic or Republican Party politicians — and their pet policies are the cause of those ills.

So many in the general public still fail to see that the Left/Right tug of war is a smokescreen, a feint, a magician’s trick to distract a gullible and unaware audience.

The mainstream media and a government-controlled education curriculum combine to keep the bulk of the public blindfolded. They both control the flow of information.

How many people are aware of the depression of 1920–21? I’ve encountered no one outside the libertarian movement who knows about it. That depression ended in only 18 months because government didn’t try tinkering with anything in order to correct the situation. The market made the necessary corrections all by itself, naturally and quickly.

Compare that to the Great Depression, which lasted almost two decades in America — from the Crash of 1929 to the end of World War II — because the government, under both Hoover and Roosevelt, thought it knew best how to fix the economy. That depression didn’t end until the government cut back on spending in 1947.

Too few people know that the market crash in 1929 was preceded by the Federal Reserve’s mandating low interest rates, despite the fact that banks knew people were borrowing to gamble in the stock market and that higher interest rates could have prevented such speculation.

How many people see that the same thing is happening now as the Fed pushes for zero or near-zero interest rates? You won’t hear about that parallel on MSNBC or CNN and probably not on Fox News, either.

It’s easier for the political class to play its economic sleight of hand when the general public is ignorant and unaware. It’s bad enough that so many people are poorly educated when it comes to economics, but the negatives are compounded when people don’t even have a fundamental understanding of rights or where those rights come from. They think rights come from the government. Not so.

Whether a person believes they come from God or from nature, they are ours, individually, just as our lives belong to us as individuals. Our liberty depends on government’s respecting those rights, our lives.

Back in my Usenet days I wound up in a debate in which someone asked, “What good is liberty without life?”

The simple answer, and one that should get through, but doesn’t, is this: Liberty without life is a null concept, but life without liberty is slavery.

The United States has fallen to tenth place among economically free countries. It’s not Number 1 and hasn’t been for years; the United States just dropped four places in only one year. It can get back into first place, but not until more people become aware that government is special only because people allow it to be so. Most are really decent people and we libertarians need to find a way to reach them in a way they don’t find threatening.

We didn’t have breakfast with Elvis; it was with Judge Crater.

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    Rich Schwartzman is managing editor at Chadds Ford Live in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania.