A New American Century
The Foundering Fathers Would Have Wept
Tuesday, March 9, 2004
It is possible to become so inured to being told what to do, and how to do it, and who to do it with—to become so accustomed to being told what we can say, what we may publicly believe, what we must seem to think, how we must manage our affairs—that we cease to notice just how regimented we are. We are there. We now accept that very nearly everything whatsoever is the proper domain of government. Why?
For example, if I want to let people bring their dogs into my restaurant, why is it the business of government? It used to be, and may still be, that in rural England people regularly brought the pooch into the local pub. It was nice. Country people know dogs and like them. Why is it the government’s concern?
Frightened minor people will nervously wring damp fingers and say, but oh my goodness, it’s an issue of public health. In the first place, it isn’t. Generations grew up with dogs in the house, with whom children regularly played and occasionally slept. The recorded death rate has thus far been subliminal. Give me a quick list of five kids you remember who died of dog poisoning. In the second place, whose business is it? If I want to risk my life by sharing a bar with a golden retriever, why is it not my risk to take?
If you don’t want to come to my restaurant because a Border Collie upsets you, then…don’t come. How hard is that? Find another restaurant. There are lots. If there aren’t, carry a box lunch. It’s my restaurant, not yours. If nobody comes to my place because of dog-distress, then I will go out of business. That’s my problem. It is not the government’s concern.
Incidentally, I much prefer dogs to drab officious little warts in governmental offices. I have lived with dogs, and found them preferable to bureaucrats on grounds of civility, intelligence, and unintrusiveness. Further, some of them could be trained to make change.
What about smoking? Why is it the government’s business? If I want to let people smoke in my bar, it’s my affair. People who don’t like it can, once again, go somewhere else. I don’t say this truculently. Customers have every right not to patronize establishments that they find disagreeable. If they don’t like the smoke, or the music, or the food, or my ugly mug, that thing in front with the hinges on it is available. A “door,” we call it.
I don’t go to places I don’t like, and don’t expect anyone else to. Why is any of this of concern to the government? To any government? Why must we be eternally diapered by tiresome prisses in power?
For that matter, why does the government have any business telling motorcyclists to wear helmets? The usual, and stupid, answer is that if I fall off and gork myself, the public will have to pay to maintain me on life-support forever. No. In the first place, that’s what insurance is for; in the second, the same argument supports making drivers of cars wear helmets, pay for full roll-cages, wear Nomex suits, and drive at five miles an hour.
In fact I don’t smoke, and I did wear a helmet, and it saved my life in a wreck. My choice, my consequence. Your helmet is not my business. Or vice versa.
Why is the government involved in the schools? If the public schools worked, an argument could be made for them: If children don’t learn to read, they are more likely to end up on the public nipple, which is everybody’s business. In fact, if the schools worked, you wouldn’t have to make an argument for them. In the fifties and early sixties, they did work. They taught the educable to read, did a reasonable job of preparing the bright for college, and did very little else. Which was exactly right.
Today they don’t work—endlessly, badly, overwhelmingly, highly documentably don’t work. They don’t work because they are chiefly means of imposing social agendas for powerful lobbies and of hiding the failures of the swing vote in presidential elections.
Note that government is the cause of the failure. It is government in one form or another that mandates the hiring of low-grade (read certified) teachers, insists on hiring according by color instead of competence, forbids the firing of the demonstrably useless, and mandates the purchase of terrible texts. Government requires teaching to the level of the dullest-witted. Government also prevents the establishment of good schools in competition with itself. Don’t think so? Try to start a school and run it as you wish.
For this we pay taxes?
For that matter, why does the government interfere in the drug trade? When I was on the police beat in Washington a buddy of mine in the DEA estimated that ninety-five percent of drugs shipped to the United States successfully entered the country. That is, the government intercepts drugs roughly as well as it schools children. The difference is that we know how to teach kids, but just don’t do it. Nobody knows how to stop the influx of drugs.
In the Twenties the government tried to stop the sale of hooch. It didn’t work because the public wanted hooch. The same is true of drugs. People want them. That’s why they buy them. (A patented Fred Insight, forty-weight. You could lube bearings with it.) Further, anybody who wants drugs can get them. So why do we spend vast sums and put up with intrusion by a government that pretends to try to do what everyone in the business knows it can’t?
I do not say these things from some evangelical libertarian hostility to all things governmental. When government does something well, I say let it. You want to put little crawly prongy things on Mars to look for water and weird worms or half-eaten sandwiches discarded by space aliens? (I do, actually.) NASA does it well. The gadgets are there. They crawl. They’re prongy. You want to bring back the public schools of 1950? Good. They worked. I’ll vote for you.
Today, what the government ought to do, it does badly, and what it ought not do at all, it does too well—such as snoop, control, meddle, and impose the ways of the unwashed on everyone. And it’s going to get worse. Much worse.
PS: I'll be in Thailand roughly March 15-April 3.