Now that the formal proceedings for Changefest 2009 have passed, I wonder exactly what people have in mind when they think about the change that is coming. There are two ways to think about it, one pessimistic, another optimistic. The pessimistic way to think is the way I have been treating this for months. That the “change” people want to see is for a more explicit recognition by the public at large that scarcity is not real. We all have adolescent crushes on charismatic charmers who convince us that not only do we have a natural right to all kinds of health care, flat panel televisions, iPods, access to top notch private schools, infinitely clean air, and the like but these things just rain down from the sky merely by us praying for it to happen.
Along these lines, people believe that in politics, there are good guys and bad guys. The bad guys are those of us that understand scarcity and that even politicians respond to incentives. The good guys are those that gather under glorious marbled domes, chanting incantations and penning 10,000 page documents that no one reads and who tell people what they want to hear. These good guys are also smarter than the average Joe, and know best what is good for you and what you want. The bad guys are those that would let Joe take a few risks and suffer the consequences of making such bad decisions. So the good guys need to get in power and all will be right with the world. Of course this is fantasy.
However, I can be optimistic at this time too. Maybe this historic event has less to do with a love of being controlled, taxed, ruled, regulated, and led to the slaughter, maybe it has less to do with a scholastic belief in the sacred powers of certain individuals, and perhaps more to do with the fact that Americans are ready for a shake-up. Perhaps it is the shake-up that they are prepared for, and not the particular details of the shake-up. We have elected the first African-American President – a remarkable achievement if you think back only 50 years to what was happening in America. But maybe I am optimistic because behind President Obama, people might actually listed to some of the sense that he has the ability to speak. That Americans must work hard for its prosperity. That government cannot ensure prosperity, but only ensure that the rules of the game are clear, unchanging and fair – to enable us to do our thing. That there are no easy solutions to our problems, whatever they might be (compare the nature of our “crisis” today with real crises in the past … we are facing the prospect of stagnant GDP or a fall in GDP of up to 3% … which would force us to live in the horrible condition that people … in … January 2008 lived in. The horror!) …
But if it is real change that people wish to see, and the Obama Administration conditions people to understand that our lives and our world is dynamic and not easy, perhaps the future is bright for more radical change than simply putting someone from your own party in the White House. Perhaps radical reforms to the tax code are possible; perhaps radical changes in environmental policy are possible; perhaps radical changes to our education and health care systems are possible? What about certain government programs attracts so much popularity? Safety and security I imagine. We can demonstrate the complete superiority of liberty over slavery in every aspect of our lives, and a clear case can easily be made that expanding choice and prosperity will lead to more safety and security for people.
I don’t believe in my heart of hearts that the majority of Americans are hostile to liberty and freedom, because for all but the most dogmatic state religionists, I have yet to have a conversation with someone about such ideas where they have said, “that is just cooky.” If this is the case – that Americans are ready for change, and that in their souls they have a love of freedom and liberty like I do and like many others do – then there is a cause for optimism. But the impetus is strongly on people like me to make a strong case for liberty not only on moral grounds (my preferred route), not only on intellectual grounds, not only on empirical grounds, but on grounds that appeal to the emotions, good senses, and fears of the general public. The rhetoric and glamour of the modern left is fantastic at it. But if you look at the kinds of change that supporters of the current Administration believe in, none of is all that radical – it is merely an expansion of the corporatist welfare state that has existed in America for over a century. But that an African American can be elected, and moreso even because he is super smart and appears to inspire confidence and joy in people, shows me that we are ready for some bone-shaking changes.
Who will carry this message? And how best to get it across. The time is ripe for real change … and that is why I am pretty optimistic about what is coming in the next eight years – because President Obama has the ability to soften people up to be open to the sorts of things that will actually be liberty enhancing. We may have to go down an unpleasant road to get there, but perhaps that is the only way it would be possible.
be taxed, subsidized, regulated, lectured, scolded, herded, harassed, and otherwise ruled in whatever ways work.