Limited Government, Government Workers

I thought I would share my comments on a current debate that I am having with friends over whether limited government supporters are hypocrites for taking government handouts. Here is what I had to say:

“The issue at hand on whether or not taking government benefits is hypocritical, while criticizing government to me can be explained through public choice economics.  Gordon Tullock from George Mason (University), who should have won the Nobel Prize in Economics with James Buchanan, wrote a very interesting article that relates to this subject. It is entitled “The Paradox of Revolution.” He uses an interesting example…

“Ruritania is governed by a vicious, corrupt, oppressive, and inefficient government. A group of pure-hearted revolutionaries are currently attempting to overthrow the government, and we know with absolute certainty that if they are successful they will establish a good, clean, beneficial, and efficient government. What should an individual Ruritanian do about this matter? He has three alternatives: He can join the revolutionaries, he can join the forces of the repression, or he can remain inactive.”

He then comes to the conclusion that the benefit of revolution is public good, while an individual joining would have a near-zero chance of changing the outcome. But also, if the revolutionary forces win, he will benefit from the public good even if he does nothing. And doing nothing decreases his chance of jail, injury, or death if he joins and the government wins or puts up a good fight.

Therefore, economically, his incentive is not to join the revolution as the low probability of success combined with the large punishment for failure is much higher then the public good that he himself cannot influence but in the .00001 percentage.

A comparable example would be what if in a presidential popular vote election your chance of dying was 1 out of 10 and your chance of changing the election is 1 in a million. The individual would not vote even though he knows if his candidate wins the country will be better off.

So how does this relate?

Any individual who benefits from the government whether its a politician, a farmer who gets subsidies, or an government bureaucrat has no individual incentive to quit his job even if his believes are that his job shouldn’t exist say for example. The government bureaucrat knows that even though the public good would be better off without the existence of his job, does not mean that him quitting would change anything at all. More than likely the government would hire someone else and would spend more money doing so.

One government bureaucrat quitting their job, or in the case above one Congresswoman refusing her government health care is not going to change the outcome of government health care. All it does is impose costs on the individual and benefits to no one.

So folks, this is exactly why big government exists.

We assumed in the example above that we knew with 100% certainty that the new government would be the best government the world had ever seen. And that is a big assumption. Most revolutions that occur in the world are merely trading one dictator for another. One could argue that, in fact, the American revolution is one of the only examples in history (maybe the Roman revolution from kings to republic) is the only non-example of this.

Limited government is filled with public goods, while big government is filled with individual handouts and this is why every limited government in the history of the world has turned into big government.”

Published in: on March 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm  Comments (1)  
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Book Review: Lincoln Unmasked by Thomas J. DiLorenzo

Imagine that one day everything that you were taught as a child comes out to be a mirage of the truth. What would you do? American children in public schools, including myself, are taught that honest Abe was a great man. He freed the slaves and united a nation, right? But what if it wasn’t so black and white? What if history overlooks a lot of the ills of Abraham Lincoln?

That is what Thomas J. DiLorenzo, professor of economics at Loyola College, tries (and does) answer in his book “Lincoln Unmasked: What You’re Not Supposed To Know About Dishonest Abe.” DiLorenzo does an excellent job of taking Lincoln piece by piece and dismantling the myths of Lincoln with chapters titled “The Great Railroad Lobbyist, The Great Protectionist, & The Great Inflationist.” When most people think of Lincoln they don’t think of his monetary and trade policies. But they should.

For example, most people do not know that pre-Civil War, there was no clear central monetary system in the United States. Andrew Jackson had just finished dismantling it and Lincoln was an strong supporter of a central bank and a national currency. This, of course, would hardly interest a 3rd grader learning about honest Abe, but is it very important in thinking about the way the country as a whole raises funds. With an unlimited central bank with a national currency that was backed in nothing, government spending could go hog-wild and it did.

Another interesting tidbit about the book was the state of slavery at the start of the war and how much wheeling and dealing the so-called “Great Emancipator” did to not free slaves. DiLorenzo points out that early in the Civil War Lincoln made it clear that he did not want to ban slavery he just wanted to centralize the government and keep the states together. This is shown with evidence through his agreement to allow border states to keep slavery as long as they stayed in the Union. Along with the fact that Lincoln actually was more supportive of a deportation of former slaves then to keep them here.

The last major point to take away from this book is the destruction of states rights and federalism. When looking back one might think that it was a slow demise but DiLorenzo suggests that Lincoln murders it outright. This is an important point to debate because federalism and decentralized government is good for the nation and at some point demised. And the reader must ask themselves, is it okay for a state to leave the union peacefully? And what role does that play in keeping the federal government in check? Though this might be one of the hardest concepts for an average American reader to grasp because with the sense of patriotism that has been indoctrinated it would be hard for them to imagine the United States without 50 states.

The only negative that this book has is that it is so short and a quick read. I am sure that this was Dr. DiLorenzo’s intention to have an easy read to spread the ideas to the masses but it left the reader wanting more. It also does such an efficient job at telling the story and illustrating the point that an average American reader may reject it thinking that they found the answer too easily and will not take the time to do the research themselves.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to all who want the other side of the story and love history.



Lincoln #1, FDR #2,… Why not George W. Bush #3?

Most of the time when historians rank President’s I ignore it. Like back in 2009 when U.S. News reported:

“President George W. Bush is near the bottom of the heap in the latest survey of historians on presidential leadership.

Bush received an overall ranking of 36 out of 42 former presidents—in the bottom 10.Click here to find out more!

The five best presidents, according to the historians, were Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore Roosevelt, and Harry Truman, in that order. Rounding out the top 10 were John F. Kennedy at six, Thomas Jefferson, Dwight Eisenhower, Woodrow Wilson, and Reagan.

The worst presidents, according to the survey, were James Buchanan at 42, Andrew Johnson at 41, Franklin Pierce, William Henry Harrison, Warren Harding, Millard Fillmore, George W. Bush, John Tyler, Herbert Hoover, and Rutherford B. Hayes.”

So all “its too recent for history to tell” aside, let’s look at the rankings a little closer. So some of the top picks are Abraham Lincoln and FDR, which unlike Franklin Pierce, Warren Harding, and some of the lower ranked Presidents, governed over very traumatic periods of American History.

Abraham Lincoln faced the Civil War and the south trying to leave the union. FDR faced the Great Depression and World War II. President George W. Bush also faced these types of experiences with September 11th and the ongoing wars in the middle east. So when it comes to ranking Presidents by historians they must take more into account then just their “difficulties” they faced in office.

Maybe its how they handled them. Lincoln suspends habeas corpus and jailed thousands of southern sympathizers. FDR creates massive government bureaucracies and sends thousands of italian, japanese, and german immigrants for basically being from countries in which the United States was at war with. Bush instead used Congress to help enact the Patriot Act which allowed law enforcement to bend the rule of law to “suspend suspected terrorists” indefinitely.

So why is it that Bush does not rank up there with Lincoln and FDR?

I would suggest that he wasn’t enough of a tyrant. Who are the most remembered and liked individuals? Brutus, Cato or Caesar? Napoleon or the people that exiled him? Everyone, of course, always remembers the tyrant and rewrites history to make them seem more like a saint.

If George W. Bush really wanted to become a top ranked President by historians, he should have made the Patriot Act and executive order and suspended more of American’s rights.

This is by no means a defense of George W. Bush, nor is it an attempt to say that it is unjust or unfair that he isn’t ranked higher. The point here is that historians enjoy the dictators and tyrants of society and they look down on the Presidents that did little or nothing. When, in fact, it was the founders’ intent for the federal government to be restrained. And yet, we reward the very men who begin its downfall from limited government to massive controlling government with the finest statues and monuments to be remembered forever.

So do I think George W. Bush should be ranked #3 as one of the greatest President’s? Absolutely not. Should historians? Absolutely and there is no reason for them to not to. My personal list is almost a complete reversal with FDR and Lincoln on the bottom as being two of the worst. Now if they would only let me decide who’s faces would be on our currency. Oh wait…