The Odd Bipolar World of Statism

Certainly one driver of statism is arrogance -- the technocratic belief that one's intellectual capacity and decision-making ability is superior to that of the masses, and therefore should be substituted (via authoritarian control) for that of the masses.  This was clearly the driver of statism in the early to mid-century.  Its what caused FDR to be so enamored of Mussolini-stype fascism.  A few smart people making the trains run on time.

But I am starting to wonder if there isn't a second driver of statism that comes from the opposite direction -- projecting one's own weaknesses on the rest of humanity and, assuming they share these weaknesses, using this assumption as a reason for mommy-state controls.  This latter reasoning came through in this article summary in my feed reader from the Arizona Republic:

Lamenting his first teenage cigarette, President Barack Obama ruefully admitted on Monday that he's spent his adult life fighting the habit. Then he signed the nation's toughest anti-smoking law, aiming to keep thousands of other teens from getting hooked.


  1. Michael:

    There is also the desire to accommodate peoples weaknesses regardless of costs. When Hurricane Andrew hit Florida, rebuilding was delayed because peoples homes had to be redesigned to meet handicap compliance laws. Here is Cincinnati about 15 years ago, Krogers opened their first wheelchair accessible store. The idea was that any job in the store could be done from a wheelchair, yet the store has never hired anyone in a wheelchair. And shopping there as a walker is a pain since you have to stoop down to access much of their products.

    I think most of us have empathy for people with disabilities, but trying to design the world to fit them isn't realistic. Can't we just be decent human beings and if we come across a person with a mobility issue ask if they might need a helping hand?

  2. Nate:

    I actually think it is the superior driver. I'd bet that most statism, both left and right-driven, comes from politicians and thinkers who are deathly afraid of what would happen if they were presented with actual freedom. And they're the elite, so surely the hoi polloi can't make their own choices. I think the classic example would be the culture-warriors who rail about all the threats to traditional marriage, porn, gay marriage, what have you, then get caught sneaking around on their wife.

  3. Peter:

    I've heard about a restaurant on the appleachian trail where the entire area was inaccesable to wheelchairs but the restaurant was still required to build to ADA code.

    Recently the repoured the sidewalks in front of my house. In order to comply with ADA they are required to make the sidewalk level for three feet from left to right. This resulted in a curb cut for my car that was at 45 degrees that my wifes car could not get over without hitting bottom. I made them rip it out and ramp the concrete in line with the sidewalk to bring my curb cut to a reasonable height. My neighbor wasn't around at the time and the town DPW wasn't going to change their sidewalk and so he is lft with a curb that is probably causing his car to hit bottom every time. Its just another example when people are obligated to do things for a particular minority they stop thinking about what needs to be done for the majority.

  4. Mark:

    There is an essay by James Buchanan from 2005 called "Afraid to be Free" which made the same point. Buchanan contrasts paternalism with, what he calls "parentalism," essentially the desire to have choices taken away from us. It is an academic article but well worth reading.

  5. Matt:

    This is where libertarianism drops the ball on trying to get people. Libertarians need to stress that one would be free to join whatever group and let them do the thinking for a person. There is no need to be self-sufficient.

    ...but if the group fails, there is no one else to blame. That is why statists want to be forced to let somebody make the decisions for them...they want to be a victim and not responsible if something goes wrong.

  6. M:

    Speaking of ADA...

    This analogy has always come to mind when talking about ADA.
    Say you have 100 round holes that you have to get pegs through. You have 98 round pegs and 2 square ones. Sure, you could make all 100 holes square so that every peg could fit through. But that would take a long time. Why not just concentrate on making the 2 square pegs fit into the round holes? Seems a more efficient use of resources.

  7. GU:

    But I am starting to wonder if there isn’t a second driver of statism that comes from the opposite direction — projecting one’s own weaknesses on the rest of humanity and, assuming they share these weaknesses, using this assumption as a reason for mommy-state controls.

    This is very plausible. More cynically, it could be driven by a "If I can't (or don't want to) do it, no one should be able to do it." No intellectually defensible reason, just pure selfishness and/or envy.

  8. spiro:

    "GU" makes a great point. In my opinion, that is the very reasoning behind most of the pushy environmentals. If they are going to sacrifice comfortable cars and properly flushing toilets to save the planet, then EVERYBODY else should be forced to do the same. It's only fair, you know.

  9. EdSki:

    Re: Mark, I can assure you, if your off, it ain't by much. I've noticed for years the tendency of people in a free society to fear that very freedom. While debating a modern liberal on gun control, I actually got him to admit, what he fears most is what other people will do to him with their freedom.