It’s only human to look for patterns, to attempt to impose order on events. But how much damage has been done to the prospects for liberty by the ready acceptance that what is happening right now will continue forever? It seems that at least some, perhaps even a significant amount, of the support for ever-bigger government can be attributed to it.
All varieties of protectionism are fueled by this concern. If foreigners keep producing goods more cheaply than we can, then in the not-so-distant future there will be no jobs left for us. Hence domestic consumers must be forced to subsidise “our” producers via taxation, then pay more for the goods they produce at the checkout. You can see this at local, as well as national, levels, too. For example, in England shops on the high street are losing custom to web-based rivals. If the trend continues soon there will be no shops left at all. Government must act before it’s too late. Taxes increase and the “extra revenue” is spent on subsidising those with friends in the local council. The hope is that leaving local people with less money to spend in the shops they didn’t shop in when they had more money is a good way to drum up extra business, which seems somewhat doubtful.
Or take a couple of always popular, always influential dogmas of state socialism. In an unhampered market wages will go down until eventually no one can afford to buy anything, and firms will get bigger and bigger until there is only one left and it will be able to do whatever the hell it likes. These hypothetical trends are truly terrifying. Government must step in, and step in it does. Currently Thomas Piketty is telling a similar tale, and though his data and conclusions may be questionable, it is a compelling one nonetheless. The trend he has discovered, if it continues, has consequences so dire that only bigger government and higher taxes can save us.
And, of course, today we are menaced by rising temperatures (or we will be again at some unspecified time in the future). If the trend of warmer weather continues we will all burn to death, or freeze to death, or drown because of flooding, or starve to death because of something or other, etc, etc, etc. This simply won’t do. Government must act, and in order to act effectively it must take on extra powers, must claim extra competences. Maybe, after the crisis is averted, it will shrink back down to its former size. Or maybe it won’t.
Whenever a threatening trend is identified the conclusion is drawn that we must do something right now. The ‘bargain’ is always the same: give up an only partially specified, partially defined amount of freedom now, in exchange for not suffering an unspecifiable and indefinite hardship or loss of freedom at some point in the future. It is not immediately obvious that this is a ‘good deal’. Is giving up a thing because there’s a possibility of losing it rational?
When we further consider (among other things) that the trend might not have those consequences it is said to have; that it might well fizzle out of its own accord; that counteracting trends might currently exist or spontaneously emerge; that the freedom “given up” is far from likely to be “returned” to us; that intervention always has unintended consequences which breed more intervention; and the possibility that the trend may not be a trend at all, it begins to look a very poor bargain indeed.
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