Several of my more classically liberal oriented friends work for government universities. And you can imagine what the response of their critics might be when they learn of this fact. “What a hypocrite!” is the closest response, meaning that someone who promotes the principle of limited government, the importance of private property rights and contract to solve problems, etc. ought not work on the taxpayer dole. The argument does, it seem, have merit. At least for me personally, I have never fancied a position at a government funded organization, in fact recently turning down an almost perfect job opportunity in part because of its government affiliation.
But that’s sort of a hopeless endeavor. Even I at the “private” University of Rochester am heavily funded by government, it’s just not as transparent. Many of my students receive federal financial aid, some of our campus infrastructure is supported by government grants, some of our data that I use to teach, for example my Money and Banking class, is produced and collected by the government. It would be impossible to live a life that is not hypocritical. I don’t want to spend too much more time on that point, but just to point out an almost sophomoric response that I’d be inclined to make when I have had one too many adult beverages.
And what is such a response? Well, for a while I’d just like to see a little self-reflection. Almost every one of the folks condemning my friends for making what appear to be “anti-government” stands from within government supported institutions come from people who condemn private, voluntary cooperation on many levels. And it is nothing short of hypocritical to cast aspersions on my friends while they themselves partake in the wonderful blessings that private cooperation has delivered to them. And to be honest, I don’t find it useful to argue along these lines. Is it reasonable for me to tell the “Progressives” out there to shun the market? They couldn’t even if they tried. And it’s a cheap way to try to score debating points. My wish here is for these sorts of things to stop.
The observation that it is impossible to avoid the reach of either the public or private sector implies one other thing. For all of the “you didn’t build that” mentality that permeates our popular discussions, the very same notion can and ought to therefore be used in response. If folks wish to argue that Wintercow would be a drooling idiot (more than I already am) without the safety of government military protection, the production of government sponsored research and so forth, then it is equally true that none of those things are possible without the Wintercows of the world plying their trades, creating wealth in the process. Again, it might be fun to score cheap debating points by engaging in either side of that argument, but it only serves to cloud us from a discussion of the real issues.
Many people are guilty of these sorts of tactics, and similarly sophomoric ones. Our Commander in Speech, recently at THE Ohio State University famously decried folks like me as being not worth listening to. It probably made him and his supporters feel good, but if folks truly are serious about engaging in debate about the proper role and scope of government, ad hominem attacks at a major commencement address are probably not an effective way to do that. It would have been appropriate, and yes I AM telling the President what to do, had he instead recognize when and where these concerns are legitimate, and to try to demonstrate that he understands that “ALL” of his “opponents” are not of the same mindset. He could have demonstrated that he understood where and why some believe the reach of the state has gone too far, on the legitimacy of budgetary concerns, and the fact that the government, too, faces a budget constraint. He could have then laid out his argument for what the government can and ought to be doing and admitted that he is actually an adult that recognizes that it simply cannot be all things to all people and just like private markets, cannot possibly solve every problem of the world. But that’s not what we get. We get pure political crap. And don’t blame the President for this, not at all. Blame yourselves. They deliver what we want them to deliver, not the other way around. It’s far from what we think of as modern leadership.