The following are some general rules that seem to be forgotten in the modern political debate.
#1: You cannot make things happen with a philosophy of government. If I have a philosophy that says that the government should take care of the poor, and I vote for people who espouse that philosophy, it doesn’t make the government take care of the poor. What it does is generally give more power to the people in government to take money under the auspices of giving it to the poor. Whether this actually happens or not can be a matter of great debate. In other words, I cannot vote to make something happen, I can only vote to give the government the power to do something. This is a VERY IMPORTANT distinction.
#2: Getting things done is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. No matter how high and mighty my cause, somebody has to actually do the work to get it done. I usually fail to understand why we are progressively giving more functions of everyday life over to the same organization that we berate constantly for inefficiency. Around election time, everyone screams and moans about the lack of good choices and votes for “the lesser of two evils.” They then proceed to turn progressively greater amounts of function over to “the lesser evil,” who they all believe isn’t actually that good. Considering that the work on the part of this individual is what gets things done, this is a recipe for progressively diminished efficiency.
#3: Giving the government power makes it more powerful. When it becomes more powerful, it is less likely to listen to you. As our good friend DeCartes said, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” No matter how much you believe in the redistribution of wealth within society, you cannot do it yourself. You are actually voting for the government to do it. You are thus giving a central source of power a progressively greater say in the overall wealth in the nation. There is absolutely nothing that I have seen in my life that leads me to believe that anyone within this institution possesses some sort of superior moral or market insight.
Just remember, when you vote for a bill to save hurricane victims or provide healthcare to children, you are actually voting to give the government the power to take money from someone and use it to provide these services. This makes the government more powerful. It also means that any mistakes by the middle man prevent the actual implementation of the lofty goal (Katrina *cough* *cough*). It also makes it less likely that a progressively more powerful government will actually be held accountable for its failures. We might ask whether using the government to implement our desires is necessarily the best thing.
#4: The government is only force. The origins of government lie in defense. The only difference between the government and a private organization is that we let the government use force to accomplish its goals. What’s the difference between the government providing health insurance to children and a private charity doing so? The government can use force to fund its program. Without the force, the government would be nothing more than an EXTREMELY inefficient form of charity in this instance. Voting for a bill to provide health insurance to children (as an example) DOES NOT provide health insurance to children. It gives the government the power to use force to take money from the taxpayers with orders to provide health insurance to children. This is an EXTREMELY important distinction.
Remember, magic doesn’t make it happen. It’s all about implementation. No matter how many warm fuzzies you get thinking about some political agenda, it doesn’t change what the agenda actually means. We can want something until we are blue in the face, but nothing will actually happen unless we do it. Likewise, you cannot vote to make things magically happen in society. You can only vote to give power to the government to do things and hope for the best. Next time you hit the polling station for a proposition, ask yourselves whether whatever you are voting for is worth the cost of implementation. Ask yourself whether whatever you are voting for has any practical chance of happening at all. We could all vote by consensus that everyone gets a Mazzerati and a trip to Mars. Magic doesn’t make it happen.