January 12, 2015 by Liberty
There is an argument that often comes up in libertarian circles. By Libertarian, I certainly don’t mean the anarcho-bunch that I spend most of my time with but the big “L” political Libertarian’s. The argument is whether or not it’s possible for government to make the world a better place at all in non-violent areas.
For example, can government “help” the world by investing money into areas that the free market wouldn’t otherwise invest in. My opinion on this, if you’re a regular reader, should be pretty obvious. I think that the pricing mechanism is the only mechanism we have to find what’s worth pursuing. Government investments just take wild stabs in the dark hoping they’re meaningful (assuming they’re not only doing what’s helping their friends or whatever is politically wise in the moment.)
A number of weeks ago I produced an article arguing that all government investments in science were a complete waste of resources. Those investments wouldn’t produce any meaningful progress. This prompted an email from a friend of mine reminding me of a basic concept I first learned from Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
(By the way, I consider Nassim Nicholas Taleb one of the most interesting men around libertarianism today. His books don’t speak of libertarianism but libertarianism might as well bleed from the pages.)
The email reminded me that I’m approaching the question in a completely idiotic way.
In my article I wasted my time arguing about the costs and benefits of government funds but I completely ignored an absolutely essential question to be asking.
Progress in the Zoo
Progress is a term that can be used in a number of different ways. In most cases, progress can be defined as the betterment (increased comfort and/or longevity) of society. If we’re discussing progress of society in those terms then we need to be willing to compare animals in the zoo to animals in the wilderness.
Zoo animals have a comfortable life. They don’t have the daily stresses of having to hunt their food. They don’t have any real predators to worry about. They have limitations but in terms of comfort and longevity, they’re in a much better position than wild animals.
Wild animals have to chase down food. They have to run away from animals ready to use them as food. They don’t get to lounge around all day. They’re completely free to do whatever they like but they have to pay the consequences of their decisions.
Let’s make the assumption that government investment can increase comfort and/or longevity for society. That government comes at the same cost of freedom as an animal in the zoo. Some might say the cost is even worse than for an animal in a zoo. (At least the animal doesn’t have to work to get it’s food.)
Your fences may be a little bit bigger than the animals but it doesn’t mean they’re not there. You need permission to leave the country. You need permission to hunt your own food. You need permission to work. You need to let the zoo take what it wants from your wages. As I could have swore I heard from some comedian sometime, we’re just monkeys in pants.
Is the sacrifice of your freedom worth the increase of your longevity and comfort?
Breeding In Captivity
There is a concept that I’ve considered eye opening when it comes to health. It’s a little bit simplistic and it’s probably not completely solid but it makes a whole lot of sense. Think about health in terms of sex. A healthy animal is an animal that breeds like crazy. Hormonally, the desire to, and ability to, have sex is paramount. It’s the fundamentally goal of evolution. (If a creature doesn’t breed well, it doesn’t survive.)
An animal that wants to screw everything in sight is an animal that’s probably in the prime of it’s health. All this, of course, is only reasonable to assume when there isn’t contradictory evidence. It’s a good way to guess health but it’s not the be all end all of concepts.
Assuming this how well do animals breed in captivity? If you haven’t heard before, animals breed miserably in the zoo. Zoo’s regularly struggle to get many species of animals to breed. When they actually do get breeding, they often end up with in-bred offspring that are unable to actually survive in a natural environment.
This information can easily be compared to the breeding of humans. While there isn’t nearly enough evidence to come up with any solid conclusions, I think it’s an interesting concept to consider.
Over the past 200 years, freedom in America has dramatically declined for white males. (I would argue all non-slaves are less free but that would take an article in itself to knock down the objections.) Fertility rates have dropped from around 7 children per mother down to around 2 children per mother. Does that mean captivity is damaging human breeding?
It probably doesn’t. It’s just a correlation. It is a fun lens to look through though.
The More Important Question
Before asking whether or not government is capable of progress, you first need to ask whether or not the sacrifices required for that so-called progress are worthwhile. Maybe the government can get man to the moon more efficiently than the free market but is it worth giving someone permission to take what they want from your paycheck? Maybe government can make people more comfortable but is it worth taking the freedom from everyone to do it.
Sure, maybe you do think it’s worth the sacrifice. I can understand preferring the comfort of the zoo to the risks and excitement of the wild. If you’re willing to make that sacrifice, that’s the time you need to consider whether or not government is even capable of making this positive changes you expect.
To the friend who reminded me of this, thank you. It can be way too easy to overlook the really important questions sometimes. I really don’t care if government can make me more comfortable because violence will never be a solution that I advocate to any non-violent problem.
Do you want to live more free without waiting for your freedom pass congress? (It won’t.) The archives of this blog can help you with that. If you want to support the message then please share this article or donate some bitcoin (using the address in the sidebar.)