Monday, December 26, 2016

The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome, by Kevin D. Williamson

Kevin Williamson is calling for an examination of the role of the state and the preferred solutions to social problems.  In The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure, Williamson challenges the role of government and offers  alternatives in several policy areas.

Williamson has a deep skepticism of the state.  He asks why do consumer goods continually get better and cheaper, while things the government touches--education, health care, etc.--get worse and more expensive.  Market forces dictate the lives of corporations, but government is the immortal corporation.  The key difference between corporations and the state is the state's monopoly on violence.  "Governments are in most cases the results of the very thing they promise to protect us against: the arbitrary use of a violent means in the pursuit of narrow self-interested ends. . . . Governments operate in very much the same way that organized-crime syndicates do."

Albert Jay Nock pointed out in 1939 that "the idea that the State originated to serve any kind of social purpose is completely unhistorical.  It originated in conquest and confiscation--that is to say, in crime.  It originated for the purpose of maintaining the division of society into an owning-and-exploiting class and a propertyless dependent class--that is, for a criminal purpose. No state known to history originated in any other manner, or for any other purpose."

If that seems harsh, well, I don't have an argument for you, except agree with Williamson and Nock that it's true.  When you get right down to it, the state will govern by the rule of law backed up with the threat of violence.  When you're a hammer, everything's a nail.  When you're a government, everything is legislateable.  "There is a deeply irrational tendency in democratic societies to believe that passing a law against problem x is the same as solving problem x, when obviously it is not."  Problem?  Pass a law.  And laws, of course, are enforceable by the threat of violence.

Wait a minute, you say, government is needed for the public good.  Who else will take care of the public good.  First of all, not necessarily the government.  "Two dollars out of every three dollars the federal government spends is spent on something that does not come close to meeting the definition of a public good. . . . The federal budget suggests that just over 20% of what the national government does involves the provision of public goods, and the rest involves taking from A and giving to B because politicians want it that way."

Meanwhile, the private sector can and does provide much of the public good, and could do more.  Williamson argues in chapters on social welfare, education, health care, and law enforcement that reducing the role of the state and allowing providers and consumers more input can lead to improved delivery of service and truly improve the public good.

Readers familiar with libertarian political theory will read much that is familiar in The End Is Near.  However, Williamson will appeal to many who are unsatisfied with the ineptitude of government at every level.  For the most part, I found Williamson's descriptions and prescriptions to be spot on.  My biggest complaint about the book: the title has little connection to the content.  It's a forgivable faux pas, and easily blamed on the editor or publisher.  But I prefer a book's title to have a bit more connection to the actual content.

2016 Reading Challenge: A book you borrow

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