The beatnicks had Woodstock and the anti-war marches. Today’s teens have the election of the first African-American President. For some it is the moon-shot. For others, the end of World War II. Perhaps some generations do not have a moment etched in their memory and their soul.
Most things do not move me much. But today is different. Today marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was 15. I grew up fearing a Soviet attack on New York City (a common semi-humorous quip went something like, “I ate my dinner like the Russians were in Jersey”). There was never an inkling that the people who lived under the thumb of communist rule would ever be freed from that horror – after all, it had lasted over a half-century.
And then one day it all ended. I was floored – it never seemed like it was in the realm of possibility. Looking back on it today, I don’t know why I was so emotional about it at the time. It has not been until the last 10 years or so that I have come to understand the meaning of living in a government-run collectivist society. Back then, I knew it was bad simply because I saw the relief and joy of the freeing of a once oppressed people. I saw the contrasting pictures of the East Germans in Trabants and the West Germans riding in Beamers (so to speak). But I did not know how deep and horrific the real differences were.
And while the “tearing down” of that wall was the beginning of the pile of communism’s ash-heap, it is certainly not the end. So when I hear the term “we” and hear folks refer to the “national interest” I turn my mind to the Berlin Wall and all it stood for. It is more than a mere pock mark, it is more than an unremovable tatoo, it is more than an ugly branding – it is the essence of the worst of mankind. Not because the “experiment” it stood for did not have a few ideolistic and noble proponents. But because such ideology could be hijacked to such a degree as to have created this. And now as an adult, I know that this simply wasn’t a case of “not giving it a chance to work” but rather a result of it working too well. The men and women who believe that humans are perfectible, who believe that we can love strangers more than our own family members, that incentives do not matter, are the most dangerous people to have ever walked the planet. They are more dangerous than serial killers. That’s because serial killers are wholly understandable. We know they are killers. They make no bones about what they are doing. But the society molders, and the do-gooders are wholly non-transparent in their ways. They use lofty rhetoric about positive human rights – forgetting that goodies do not rain from the sky, and that promising such rights is the same as enslaving someone to provide such “rights.” They use lofty rhetoric about improving working and environmental conditions – forgetting that the corporations and union interests supporting these conditions do so to improve their competitive position at the expense of workers at the bottom end of the scale, and smaller and less politically powerful corporations. The use lofty rhetoric about the “national interest” and “public purpose” – forgetting that there is no nation, just different ways of having the few rule the many. They use lofty rhetoric about protecting their citizens – forgetting that there can be a thing called too much protection. The use lofty rhetoric about a diversity of ideas – forgetting that embracing real diversity requires more than issuing such platitudes. They use lofty rhetoric about taxpayers “doing their duty” – forgetting that charity at the point of a gun is not charity, but something quite different. They use lofty rhetoric about doing what is best for our children, our seniors, our veterans – forgetting that what is often best is to do nothing at all, or at least to remove the direct control of the state from these areas. The lofty rhetoric is always about expanding the power and influence of the state, and never about looking inward and empowering individuals. Never. Is it really in the statistical realm of reality to think that every solution to every problem in the world involves more government? Sick health care system – more government. Systemic risk in financial markets – more government. Too many car accidents and murders – more government. Products making people sick – more government. Failing schools – more government. Dirty water and air – more government. Marital difficulties – more government. Newspapers and car companies failing – more government. Here’s a simple exercise folks – even if there is a 90% chance that more government is the solution to each of these and every other problem, what is the statistical probability that the solution to each and every one of them involves more government? In a world with just 10 problems to deal with there is a 65% chance that at least one solution involves no government. In a world with 20 problems it drops to 12%. And we have a world with far more than 20 problems.
That is the meaning of the Berlin Wall fall for me. My Woodstock is the demonstration that sometimes (in my view all the time) a little less government is what is needed to make the world a better place. And that was a moment when virtually everyone around the world – including some of those IN government, recognized that simple fact. It is a lesson that has been deeply forgotten. Not for me. And it will not be forgotten by my children.