Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - April 20, 2014

Brian Gongol

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If men were angels

There is nothing inconsistent with believing in the need for protection of the weak, the needy, and the defenseless, and a belief that the best systems overall are those with strictly limited government intervention.

Government is not by nature benevolent. The worst atrocities of the 20th Century were consistently performed by governments. That does not mean government cannot be a force for good -- it can, and it should.

But it is by no means guaranteed that government always will be virtuous and charitable towards the weak. If men were angels, no government would be necessary [James Madison, Federalist 51]. The temptation to abuse power is not unique to any particular type of power -- political, economic, martial, or otherwise. We must remain skeptical of any power in any form.

In choosing self-governance with much diffusion of power, America chooses to substitute the risk of government overbearance for the responsibility of caring for our own, without shrugging off that work to the government.

Look at a parallel situation: In journalism, anonymous sources should almost always be avoided...except when they're absolutely necessary. Their impact is valuable only when they are tremendously rare. A report made up of nothing but anonymous tips is just a gossip column.

The same goes for government-sponsored welfare programs, for instance. They should almost always be avoided...except when they are truly absolutely necessary. When we ask government to intervene for all things, it loses its safety-net characteristic and becomes part of the planning process. People who plan for retirement and use Social Security as part of their calculations are doing a very rational thing -- but it's not what the system should be there to do. And it's certainly not just Social Security -- if you know that the government guarantees your bank deposit insurance, do you perform any due diligence at all about the soundness of the bank? If you expect government to come to the rescue in case of natural disasters, do you pay out-of-pocket for adequate insurance? If you run a company that is acknowledged as "too big to fail", do you take the same precautions as you would if the house of cards were allowed to fall?

To our detriment, much of government has become so paternalistic that it no longer serves as a safety net, but rather as people's first line of choice. People plan around extension, planning less than they should. In practical terms about retirement, for instance, this means setting aside vastly less than they should. When that happens, on net, we are less self-sufficient and show no evidence of actually being richer. Dispute that? Check out our apocalyptic Federal debt. It now tallies $17,542,000,000,000...or more than $55,000 per person in this country. That's how deep we are in the hole for every single one of us...accumulated in very large part from the promises we've made to pay ourselves in the future.


The essence of government, really, is how to get the largest number of people to make the largest number of right decisions with the smallest interference to their freedom and liberty. We have to possess enough humility to realize that we don't always have the right answers -- culturally or politically -- so the right decision may not be known. It may be different from person to person. Circumstances are not always uniform, and so neither are the right decisions. We want people to make the right decisions for themselves with the maximum amount of choice.

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