Chanelling Milton Friedman

For years I have tried to find the right words to express my frustration with the notion that the problems encountered with government planning and technocratic meddling was merely the fault of having the wrong humans in charge, rather than of the system itself.  For example. I wrote:

Today, via Instapundit, comes this story about the GAO audit of the decision by the FDA to not allow the plan B morning after pill to be sold over the counter.
And, knock me over with a feather, it appears that the decision was
political, based on a conservative administration's opposition to
abortion.  And again the technocrats on the left are freaked.  Well,
what did you expect?  You applauded the Clinton FDA's politically
motivated ban on breast implants as a sop to NOW and the trial
lawyers.  In
establishing the FDA, it was you on the left that established the
principal, contradictory to the left's own stand on abortion, that the
government does indeed trump the individual on decision making for
their own body
  (other thoughts here).
Again we hear the lament that the game was great until these
conservative yahoos took over.  No, it wasn't.  It was unjust to scheme
to control other people's lives, and just plain stupid to expect that
the machinery of control you created would never fall into your
political enemy's hands.

Well, it turns out that Milton Friedman said it better decades ago.  Megan Mcardle reminded me of this passage from Free to Choose:

The error of believing that the behavior of the social organism can be
shaped at will is widespread. It is the fundamental error of most
so-called reformers. It explains why they so often feel that the fault
lies in the man, not the "system"; that the way to solve problems is to
"turn the rascals out" and put well-meaning people in charge. It
explains why their reforms, when ostensibly achieved, so often go


  1. dicentra:

    It explains why they so often feel that the fault lies in the man, not the "system"

    Actually, it lies in both. There is no system so pure, so well-designed, so moral, and so self-sustaining that humans can't mess it up. Democracy is a wonderful example. It works well if the people who vote are moral, well-informed people who want what's best for society at large. It's a nightmare when the voting populace is ill-informed, paranoid, or easily manipulated.

    What these do-gooders never seem to realize is that people suck and they always will, and the best you can do is create a system that prevents any one group or individual or institution from gaining too much power over others.

    Kinda like the Constitution. But even a nation ruled by it can go astray when the checks and balances are subverted and the guilty go unpunished for their excesses.

    They always seem to assume that a Socialist/NannyState government will be wise and benevolent. Where the hell they got that idea I'll never know.

  2. Samael de Nosmic:

    In response to the previous comment (dicentra's), I'm actually going to cite, of all people, Anne McCaffrey's point in her Pern series... which is namely that, the problem they found in their constitution in that series (which is actually a lot like the United States') is that it does not specify what happens to individuals who try to subvert the rights guaranteed in it.

    Same problem, I think, as the framers of our constitution had (and I apologize for my tortured language there) - I really don't think any of them (except Jefferson, perhaps, and that man was planning on the government he helped form dying before they were done charting it out) actually took into account the idea that their descendants would be so daft as to directly subvert the document.

    We've encountered a lot of landmarks of change. Note, first, the Bill of Rights - 10 Amendments that effectively scared many of the originals writers of the constitution simply because they wrote out explicitly what was believed to be implicit in the declaration of independence. (I am very much tempted to go out on a long tangent about how our constitution is very carefully written in implicit rather than explicit terms, with only governmental rights placed in the explicit context, but that's for my own audience). Note also, Marbury vs. Madison, which gave the supreme court the right to rule on the constitutionality of a given law. I may need to point out that, believe it or not, the courts did not have and had not exercised this power prior to that point and ask also why it would have been a necessary check if it was not required that the executive office swear to uphold the constitution (it is my personal opinion that it was this office which was intended to serve the role that the supreme court largely occupies itself with now, but I truly have no evidence of this).

    Then we get into prohibition, which is a very, very interesting amendment, in that it gave government the federal ability to regulate alcohol (and, presumably, other substances). Note that, upon that amendment being repealed, no other one was put in its place to illegalize (sp? even a word?) other illicit drugs. Strange that government found it necessary at that time to pass an amendment to gain that power, but not afterward (though I admit I have not ever, in my entire life, actually read the amendment which repealed prohibition).

    Personally, I think the system can be pure. The language it's written in can't. Think about something like modern debates on the second amendment - how much are they concerned with something like the ideology behind its writing as opposed to its actual semantics?

    I think one of the reasons we HAVE a representative democracy is precisely because people appear to be easily manipulated at large. We really didn't have the common vote as it is interpreted until the 20th century. If you want to see a closer match of direct democracy, take a look at my home state of Texas, where just for one county to get a new surveyor it must be amended to the state constitution by vote of the general populace. Not sure what my point with any of this was... hm...

    Hell. I'm lost now.